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  • TJ Christensen

The ski industry has a problem, and I'm part of it...

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

The ski industry is at a crossroads. Baby boomers are leaving the sport as they get older and retire and unfortunately Millennials aren’t making up for the exit. Millennials are all about the experience, so they’ll ski, check the box and move on. For those that come back the frequency in which they ski is far less than their parent’s generation and that’s a problem.

I’m not a ski industry expert, but it was one of the markets I oversaw in my time running sales and marketing for a technology company in a prior role. What I know from that time is people in and around the ski industry are fantastic, world-class operators, and incredibly passionate about their sport. They should be, there is nothing like a great day on the mountain.

If you’re in it, you know. You ski multiple times a year, you know all about first tracks, and you’re not the problem. I am.

I’m a middle-aged dad with two kids at an age perfect for an introduction to snow sports. I love the idea of the boys growing up with a passion for skiing or snowboarding. To that end, I decided to do a little test this season and take the family tubing at a local ski area. We loved it. The kids passed the test. They made it out on the hill for 3 hours in the cold with zero complaining, and when we left they were begging to come back and try out skiing. I was all about it, and then wouldn’t you know it, life gets in the way. We get home, we get back into our routine, and now we keep pushing it off…

In industries I’m more familiar with, theme parks, zoos, museums, etc… After buying my ticket online and visiting I would have been hit with somewhere between a barrage of generic “come back and see us offers” or carefully tailored and personalized drip-feed of emails to bring me back to the venue. Since we’ve visited the ski area almost two weeks ago, complete radio silence…

I may be part of the problem, but it takes two to tango as they say.

Not one follow-up, email, offer, direct mailer, smoke signal… nothing… With today’s tools and technology, this is simply unacceptable.

You could say I’m being harsh but think about the factors here.

  1. The big guys have huge marketing budgets, so independent resorts have to compete harder for every visit.

  2. The ski industry has a problem getting millennials to visit once let alone become passionate return visitors

  3. First time visitor with kids ideal age for indoctrination into the sport visit

  4. Lives within hour drive

As a marketer I’m drooling… This is the perfect recipe for someone I’d want to get back to the resort, in lessons, and next year at the top of my season pass campaign.

There is a great quote from Bridget Van Kralingen, Senior Vice President at IBM, where she said, “The last best experience that anyone has anywhere, becomes the minimum expectation for the experience they want everywhere.”

So what, who cares (said in SNL’s Fred Armisen’s sassy NYC accent)? I care and anyone in charge of a P&L should care.

Consumers / your guests expect it. They are comparing their experience with your brand against eCommerce retailers, their local Zoo, and even Disney. The good news is you’ve got some great momentum to maximize your efforts now, this season. Yes, during COVID.

Let’s talk about COVID, and the silver lining here for venues. My best guess is that before COVID most venues sold 30-40% of all tickets online. Today 100% of visitors must purchase online.

I admit attendance levels are lower due to capacity restrictions but coming out of COVID I wouldn’t be surprised to see the percentage of guests who purchase online hover around the 75% mark. COVID has been a great accelerator for eCommerce and I believe a lot of those laggards won’t turn back to their “we’ll just buy our tickets when we get there” ways…

With the tools available today, no matter what size of venue you operate, basic personalization and segmentation are within reach. At minimum you should be able to:

Build your list:

  • Collect email and mobile opt-ins during the checkout process. Even if you’re not doing SMS marketing, start building the list now.

  • Build a give/get relationship with your guests. You want emails and mobile numbers, so give them something for it. Be creative and tie it into a broader goal like driving F&B spend. If you gave one (1) cup of hot chocolate out with every mobile number/email address collected, what might the effect be on your overall F&B spend? Let alone the value of that mobile number/email address by itself.

Segment your guests:

  • You should be able to run a report from your ticketing system that provides your pass type and email address from the transaction. From there you can load the list into your email marketing solution and target the guests to upgrade accordingly. i.e. tubing guests with a bounce-back package with lessons/rentals, or for day-passes offer off-peak promotions to distribute demand.

There are a half-dozen marketing tactics like this that I would consider “table stakes” that your organization should be executing daily.

Once you have the basics under control you can move into tactics that require more sophistication and integration. Over time with the right tools and focus you can get to a place where you’ve built solutions to deliver a robust upgrade funnel and guest experience engine without breaking the bank.

Sorry for the rant… If you’re reading this I hope you’re at least checking the boxes. If you’re not, like the ski area I visited a few weeks ago, I encourage you to re-evaluate your marketing budget at the end of this season and invest. Keep in mind you’re not just competing with other ski areas, you’re competing with the couch, which is pretty comfy these days, so to stay front and center - remind me, entice me, and bribe me to come back time and time again.


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