Three Huge Opportunities to Boost Skier Visits

Participation downhill skiing and boarding lags dramatically behind US population growth. Between 1992 at 2012, US population increased 22%. Skier visits went up a measly 3%. Here are three big opportunities to boost skier visits:

#1. Give boomers what they want (and this is not about lower prices)

#2. Fix the first time skier experience

#3. Attract millennials differently

Attract Millennials

I recently worked with a leading vacation ownership company. I was there to help them develop ways to attract next-generation (a.k.a. Millennials) timeshare users. The implications extend to snow sports participation.

Millennials' have global vacation options at their fingertips.

Millennials’ have global vacation options at their fingertips.

No surprise perhaps, technology is among the strongest influences on Millennials’ vacation choices. Millennials have global vacation options at their fingertips. Some believe that Millennials are simply too immersed in their digital worlds to actually do anything, including skiing. That’s not true of course.

Millennial’s in $50K+ households are, in fact, generating more travel and tourism dollars than any other generation.

The world is Millennials’ oyster. They virtually tour resorts in exotic locations and read guest reviews. They book vacations with a swipe of their fingers. Snow sports vies for their attention among thousands of other global vacation opportunities that sit in Millennials’ hands. They have more vacation options that they can access with high assurances of quality.

Millennials are also among the first vacationers to use second-generation online vacation planning tools. They are beginning to move away from pure-play booking sites like Travelocity and Kayak. They’re looking at sites that address their vacation planning needs more fully, like Tripadviser and Travefy. On those sites, Millennials can research and book destinations, accommodations, activities and restaurants all at once. They can book solo or coordinate with travel companions living in other locations.

The emerging implication for the snow sports industry is this: Millennials are enjoying a global menu of vacation experiences. Snow sports businesses have opportunities to appear on that menu as appetizers, main courses or deserts, but they need to appear. And, snow sports businesses have opportunities to meet Millennials’ social needs and budgets better than exist today.

Scale up Boomer and Gen-Xer Participation

Boomers and Gen X skiers are scaling back their days on snow. According to Snow Sports Industries of America (SIA) research, the top reasons include not finding the time or companions to ski with. There are other reasons for scaling back that related mostly to personal commitments. But, SIA makes a point of saying this:

Expense doesn’t even appear among top 15 reasons why snow sports participants lapse.

I suspect there is confusion about the influence of price. If you ask consumers a simple “blunt instrument” question about what will make them buy or use more of any product, the answer is always the same…”Lower the price.” This is mistakenly taken as useful insight.

Price counterbalances everything on the other side of consumers’ value equations. If you don’t improve the value, (for example, making it easier for skiers to overcome time constraints) then the only way possible to increase usage is by lowering the price.

Discounted multi-resort passes are good for skiers and borders. I don’t know if they create incremental revenue for ski resorts. And, I’m not waiting to find out. I’m exploring opportunities to boost skier visits by innovating solutions to “time constraints” and other barriers on that side of skiers’ value equations.

Fix the First Time Skier Experience

Lastly, the first time skiing experience is a failure. 83% of first timers never come back according to the National Ski Areas Association. Has skiing devolved to a one-time check mark on vacationers’ bucket lists? Or, is the first time skiing experience that bad?

Consider the “asks” the snow sports industry makes of first-timers: Please borrow or buy expensive winter clothing just to stay warm enough to try the sport. Absorb the time and expense of getting to a resort. Figure out what to do next and where to go. Look around to see how the buckles close on rented ski boots. Make sure the boots fit…whatever that means. The first hour of the first day presents an expensive and confounding experience.

A fraction of first timers take lessons. By the end of the day, a first timer is a couple hundred dollars lighter,  tired and frustrated with their lack of progress. Their only delight at the resort is taking their ski boots off at the end of the day.

Skiing and boarding are not sports you can start happily by yourself. First-timers need experienced friends and professionals holding their hands at every step, literally.

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Jay Sherman blogs for and CEO of a  research and innovation firm in Cleveland, Ohio. Clients include over forty Global 2000 organizations. More about Jay and VacationBehavior here.

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