Mountain Resort Guest Satisfaction High While Frogs Boil?

Are mountain resort guest satisfaction scores distracting managers from significant innovation opportunities and threats?

300 U.S. mountain resorts became boiled frogs in recent decades. Hundreds more are at significant risk.

Are mountain resort guest satisfaction scores lulling resorts into becoming boiled frogs?

Is your focus on resort guest satisfaction lulling you into becoming a boiled frog? Photographer: Brian Gratwicke.

Surviving resorts benefit, at least temporarily. Annual U.S. skier visits, which has been static while the population grew 20%, is concentrated among fewer resorts. There’s a tinge of complacency in press releases touting the industry’s “stability” and resort guest satisfaction.

That’s risky.

Mountain resort guest satisfaction scores rarely predict growth paths. The scores provide diagnostics. They don’t prescribe innovations that sustain competitiveness. They don’t inform responses to external forces that are inexorably eroding the mountain resort guest experience. Fourteen of these forces are described below.

Is your resort at risk of getting cooked? These three questions will help you assess your situation.

Q.1) If guest visits weren’t meeting projections, you’re management team would most likely (choose all that apply)…

  • A)   Reallocate marketing dollars to the most effective tactics
  • B)   Create more promotional events
  • C)   Look for drops in your mountain resort guest satisfaction scores for clues about what’s going on
  • D)   Refresh your understanding of the guest experience
Focusing on resort guest satisfaction to the exclusion of threats gets mountain resorts in hot water.

Are guest satisfaction scores distracting mountain resorts from more useful insights about what to innovate? (Screenshot: “Frogs watching TV” worms, YouTube.)

What about option D, refresh your understanding of the guest experience?  Do you believe option D has more fuzzy outcomes than A, B, or C?  Option D casts a big net to understand all influences on guest behavior.

On the other hand, options A, B and C don’t detect all of the influences. And, they can delay refreshing your understanding of the guest experience by weeks or months.

Q.2) Is a mountain resort guest satisfaction survey the primary means by which you’re detecting influences on guest behavior?

Satisfaction studies are great for tracking specific measures of service quality. These services deliver only part of the total experience that influences guest loyalty.

Guest behavior is influenced by more than what happens at your resort. The whole guest experience includes conscious and unconscious events, expectations and frustrations that happen before, during and after they deal with you. Guests’ experiences are influenced by the contexts of guests’ lives, not just what happens when they arrive at your destination.

Resort guest satisfaction can become a distraction leading to boiled frogs.

Consider how opportunities (or urgent needs) for innovation are propelled by events in guests’ lives, such as changes in,

  • household structures, singlehood, divorce and the rise of single heads of households
  • competitors’ offerings
  • consumers’ increasing access to global vacation options
  • shifts in values from material to experiential
  • how social groups coalesce differently in different cohorts
  • ethnicity and customs
  • adoption of new technologies and apps
  • corporate cultures and work-life balance
  • monetary exchange rates
  • travel costs in time and money
  • generational spending power
  • stock and bond market performance
  • disease outbreaks and control (e.g., Zika virus)
  • payment preferences

We’ve seen all of these influences at play. Some of these influences are inspiring innovations at hotels and resorts as we speak.

Can your guest satisfaction survey detect all of these shifts? If not, that’s not a failure of your survey. Remember, satisfaction surveys only measure aspects of service quality at your resort. That’s because guests will spend only a minute or two providing honest answers.

High guest satisfaction has lured hundreds of resorts into becoming boiled frogs

Mountain resort guest satisfaction surveys have another important limitation: selection bias. The only the guests completing satisfaction surveys are the ones who show up. Satisfaction scores can remain “high” while guest visits decline. You need other ways to learn what’s influencing guest experiences and behavior.

Last question…

Q.3 When would your management team consider researching and revamping the guest experience? Check all that apply.

  • a) After marketing efforts fail to produce desired results
  • b) After guest visits continue declining
  • c) After guest satisfaction finally drops
  • d) After all of the above happens

Did you include C, waiting until your guest satisfaction scores drop? At most resorts, the number of guest visits goes up and down without corresponding changes in guest satisfaction scores. For the reasons above, your guest satisfaction scores may never drop, even as guest visits decline. Resorts are refreshing their guest experiences in other ways.

How often do resorts refresh their guest experiences?

We follow up with companies two to three years after refreshing their guest experience. They suggest that the usable shelf life of  guest experience insight averages five years.

Most report significant improvements. One saw a 27% increase in sales. Benefits include online and traditional marketing efficiencies, higher-demand products, pricing models that boost repeat visits, revenue and referrals, and streamlined operating costs.

What could be the benefits to your business? The numbers below demonstrate a model for figuring this out.

  1. Let’s say your resort has historically generated $15 million in sales annually. Every !% change in sales represents $150,000.
  2. If your sales fall short 5% over the next five years on average, you’re out $3.75 million.
  3. Most guest experience studies costs about $40,000. That’s about 1% of $3.75 million of revenue you could have earned. You’d have better cash flow, less revenue to make up and less pressure from your board.

Is it worth it? Only you can decide. Awareness of the limits of guest satisfaction surveys and some simple math can keep you out of hot  water.

Vacation Behavior’s Guest Experience and Satisfaction Suite provides the most comprehensive approach available for influencing mountain resort guest satisfaction and loyalty. Learn more here.

5 reasons why guest satisfaction won't boost resort or hotel guest visits...and what willIf you like this post, please share it with colleagues. You may also enjoy reading :

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Vacation Behavior provides differentiating perspectives to tourism marketers  differentiating their brands. Here are some related blog posts about influencing more guests to visit your destination.

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Resort Hotel Social Media Marketing: Two Facts (and Myths)

resort hotel social media platformsMost resort hotel social media activity seems to be based on two assumptions. Or, misconceptions. The first is that customers value social media interactions with resort hotels. The second is that social media delivers all the customer feedback hotels need.

Are these legitimate facts…or myths?

There’s a lot of confusion about social media. [APRIL 4 UPDATE: Ryan Solutions cites 12-20% decline in resort hotel social media postings in 2015. The post below contributes some insight as to why.]

I’ve been looking at a lot of resort hotel social media and gathering a consensus of opinion from content marketing experts, including CMI. Here’s where I’ve wound up.

Fact-myth #1: Customers value interaction via resort hotel social media

Resort hotel social media can include Facebook, Instagram and other platforms. That’s where consumers hang out. So, it’s essential to show up and introduce your brand. But, taking your relationship to the next level will probably require “bringing them to your place.”

Here’s what I mean. Someone might stumble over one of your Facebook posts. They might see your ad. They might even ‘like’ something you said. But, the vast majority are not on social media to interact with your company. According to Kissmetrics, 99% will likely never visit you again. Customers use social media to interact with each other.

Tourists reviews imageIn the context of vacationing, customers want to share information about compelling destinations, lodging alternatives, restaurants and places to see.  And, the most reliable, trusted source of  information about those places is other travelers who’ve been there.

Tripadvisor, Foursquare and Gogobot are among often used sources of traveler-generated reviews and information. Facebook, not so much. (There are FB marketing fails all over the interwebs, including this post that never calculates the ROI promised in its title, or this Kissmetrics post.)

Still, if you use social media in your marketing mix, do it with the intent of earning your prospect’s attention—and their email addresses. That way, you can quickly take them to your place, your company’s blog or email list. When customers accompany you to a channel you own, you can engage them far more reliably. Your posts won’t be screened by Facebook or other social media platforms. You can provide content they’ve expressed interest in. You can listen to their comments and complaints.

These are two of most common pieces of advice offered by social media experts: Deliver high quality sharable content and give customers a reason to share their email address with you. Online contests and giveaways are common.

Fact-myth #2: You can get the customer insight your business needs from social media.

The best way to nudge you toward clarity about fact-myth #2 is by asking you this simple question:

Is any media, social included, so comprehensive that you’d willingly give up all others?

Most people would say no. But, some tourism marketers quickly pivot to “the relatively high speed and low cost” of social media research.

Yes, there are ways to quickly send surveys out on some resort hotel social media platforms. There are text mining packages that can scrape comments. resort hotel social media surveysYou can identify who social media influencers are, what they share and with whom.

Is social media research faster, cheaper or more effective? Any one of these, maybe. Any combination of two, probably not. All three? You’re on really thin ice.

It’s just like any other method for collecting customer feedback. There are trade offs that many marketers don’t have time to think about. This second question might help simplify things.

How big of a business investment are you willing to risk based on the data you acquired from a survey of your company’s Facebook fans?

Probably not a big investment, unless you had corroborating data from multiple other sources. There are more questions to consider, like these for example.

What if the purpose of your research is to create new products and services to attract new customers? Are your Facebook fans the right people to ask? Should you even be asking closed ended survey questions? Should you be having conversations with prospective buyers to learn what their preferences are and the language they use to express them?

So, what’s been your experience with engaging and getting feedback from customers on social? Please share your comments below!

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Mountain Resort DMOs Conference: The Big Idea for Growing Summer Tourism

Last week, I attended “The Assembly”, the annual meeting of mountain resort DMOs in Denver, Colorado, USA. The theme this year was about managing peaks and valleys.

Mountain resorts in the U.S. are at peak capacity on most winter weekends. The valleys referred to huge swaths of opportunity during summers to grow occupancy and rates. After soaking in what I heard, I boiled my thoughts down to eight notes to self:

Mountain resort DMOs look to fill summer capacity.

Mountain resort DMOs look to fill summer capacity.


1. Two paths for mountain resort DMOs to fill vacant beds in summer?

Much of the discussion focused on capital-intensive investments in mountain coasters, water parks and other attractions that could draw summer visitors. That’s one potential growth path. How many waterparks can a region support? That’s addressed with a pretty straight forward market assessment.

Carl Robaudo of SMG Consulting offered a second path. He said, “Consumers, especially Millennials, want authenticity. DMOs need to communicate their local cultures. Culture is authentic.”

I thought that path was as good as the first. Maybe better. In our work with clients, it’s always been the less familiar path for them.  But, it’s also been the path to effective marketing, far more influential guest experiences and streamlined operating costs.

So, I followed the authentic culture path with these remaining notes…

2. Are DMOs challenged to describe what their areas’ cultures are?

Those who do it successfully stand a better-than-even chance of taking market share. Here’s why.

Multiple studies show that many tourists, and especially Millennials, are motivated to accumulate experiences –more than homes, cars or other possessions. This is partly because cash-strapped, student-debt-laden Millennials can’t afford to buy much. Many use AirBnB and VRBO to save money. But, they also choose to shack up temporarily with hospitable locals to experience the local vibe in ways they can’t in hotel rooms.

While community layouts and architecture affect the vibe, it’s still mostly about interactions between people. Destination vacationers of all ages are starting to use mobile apps that help them connect with locals and fellow travelers while on the road.

These changes in vacationer preferences and enabling technologies are contributing to the growing importance of destination culture.

3. How do current visitors describe your destination’s unique vibe?

Is it limited to cute boutiques, good restaurants and decorative lights on main street? These are found at many mountain resorts. If that’s all that’s going on, then these could portend death by un-differentiation.

In contrast, for example, Lake Placid is a remote, tiny village steeped in rich Olympic history. Visitors encounter residents who gladly share that history as well as world class athletes who train and compete there. Lake Tahoe, on the other hand, is a massive region encompassing multiple mountain resorts that have spectacular lake views. It’s where the super-outdoorsy rub elbows with casino patrons. Both locations have very different vibes.

What makes your destination unique?

4. Are you promoting a geographical footprint that visitors think is unique?

It’s natural for all of us to promote what’s in our backyard, within the boundaries of our towns and counties.

But, tourists lump vacation locations together according to their own notions. They may be thinking of a neighborhood, a scenic route that crosses county lines or an entire continent. Think, “Lake Placid vs. Lake Tahoe.” East coasters book trips to “Lake Tahoe”, never limiting themselves to Heavenly, Squaw or any specific community there. Regional and resort destinations frequently overlap. But, typically visitors share a common perception of what the “place” is to them.

5. Do you know what the next generation of visitors is actually trying to achieve?

In our research with affluent Gen-X and Millennial vacationers, we’ve identified more than fifty factors that influence their vacation purchases and loyalty. The starting point is understanding today’s consumers’ goals. Their goals are shifting dramatically and in unexpected ways.

Take for instance amateur millennial female athletes. They skew educated, health conscious, independent, assertive, career oriented and mutually supportive. They reject common conventions of acceptable “female behavior” that existed before Title IX.

Understanding shifts among nextgen travelers like millennial women opens up new ways to attract them.

Understanding the goals and temperaments of nextgen travelers like these millennial women opens up new ways to engage with them.

Back then, no one could have predicted that  these women would happily run 5Ks through fields of mud for charity and pay $65 for the privilege. Today, a Dirty Girl Mud Run happens somewhere in the U.S. most weekends between March and September. Average attendance is 7,000 per event.

6. What are nextgen visitors’ paths to purchase?

Decades ago, consumers’ vacation planning typically began and ended with specific destinations in mind. That’s changing.

Word-of-mouth and the Internet have short circuited destination-driven planning. Consumers are learning about more unique vacation experiences through affinity groups, social media and friends. The destinations are more frequently afterthoughts.

Dirty Girl Mud Run participants learn about those event on the paths they tread, which include fitness and involvement with pink ribbon charities.

Another example is the Burning Man festival. Few people Google search, “cultural desert vacation.” Yet, Burning Man sells 70,000 tickets to participants seeking these experiences—“a utopia in the desert, a culture of possibility and a network of dreamers and doers.”

Finding new tourists on their paths to purchase is gaining importance.

Finding new tourists on their paths to purchase is gaining importance. What paths do 70,000 Burning Man participants follow to the middle of a dust storm?

7. How can mountain resort DMOs re-position onto nextgen vacationers’ paths to purchase?

It’s important to keep in mind that nextgen vacationers have aspirational destinations, not just physical destinations, in mind. They want to accomplish or become something during their blocks of free time. Opportunities open up for DMOs that dial in to vacationers’ aspirations and set up shop along their paths to purchase.

One of the challenges to re-positioning was discussed at The Assembly. DMOs need to respond to local constituencies that often have different interests. Developers want to maximize income per square foot. Residents want affordable housing and to preserve the lifestyle that makes mountain living desirable.

Nurturing experiences that resonate authentically with visitors requires a balancing act. Affluent vacationers want access to pristine mountain experiences as well as the diversions of boutiques and eateries. These are not necessarily differentiators, though.

DMOs need to give visitors a compelling reason to come the first time and then return. One good reason for visitors to return is their aspirations are fulfilled more deeply and in ways that few other places can duplicate.

8. Where to start?

DMOs need to engage local constituencies to develop and support initiatives that distinguish their locations, magnetize visitors and drive loyalty. And, the shorter the timelines to do those things, the better.

This is hard where competing agendas and opinions dominate discussion. Any decision taken by DMOs can be regarded as taking one side or the other. This is human nature. Similar politics exist in all organizations.

The answer is a tie-breaking vote—cast by the next generation of visitors, who have cash in their hands and who want to experience the things that make that destination unique. The most effective deliverer of their vote is an impartial third party, backed up by hard data.

But, as I said, these are just notes to self. What do you think?

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Influencing leisure and tourism customers requires different insight than guest surveys provide.It seems intuitive that if you’re measuring guest satisfaction your guest visits would go up. But, in hundreds of global brands we analyzed, we found the two are not related. Find out why, and how leading companies are dramatically increasing guest visits. Read, 5 Reasons Why Guest Satisfaction Surveys Won’t Increase Your Guest Visits…and What Will.

Design Guest Experiences that Create Loyalty

We all want to design guest experiences that make patrons come back and refer others. But, how do you effectively design guest experiences? Well, it starts with understanding how humans experience.

Influential guest experience

Create a guest experience that positively influences guest behavior

You have an experience just about every minute you’re awake. You’re even having an experience wearing the shoes you have on right now. And, like experiences of your shoes, the color of the ceiling and background noises, most of the experiences you have are filtered out.

How you experience is intimately connected with the way your mental machinery perceives, interprets, and evaluates the situations you’re in… and how this process influences what you do.

For years, I’ve been helping clients understand the “mental model of the customer”. This is typically different than the “mental model of the company.” In order to design influential guest experiences, you have to understand the capabilities and limitations of the human mind.

Our Brains Filter Out Most Experiences

Our nervous systems filter out more than 99% of the sensory information we’re exposed to. This allows you to pay attention to a small number of the most important things.

Your mind is continuously and automatically comparing the flood of sensory information to what it predicts it will experience.  If that information roughly matches previous patterns, the information is handled subconsciously. It doesn’t “register” as something you consciously think about.

This subconscious process allows you to act on “auto pilot”. For example, when you walk up to the front door of your house, key in hand, and the lock and door appear to behave as expected. You unlock the door and walk in. You don’t have to consciously “figure it out.”

An Influential Guest Experience Requires Surprises

If, on the other hand, that sensory information isn’t what was expected, it bubbles up to the level of conscious processing. If an element of the current situation catches you by surprise, you turn your attention to it.

But, our conscious processing has limited short term memory.  Generally, we can only consciously think about seven pieces of information.

The most influential guest experiences are designed around: 1) our short-term memory limitations and 2) people’s ability to act while on auto pilot.  Whether you like it or not, customers filter out… or at least deal with subconsciously… virtually all the details of every experience they have. They only pay attention to a small number of things.

The trick is to deliberately design guest experiences that map comfortably to guests’ auto pilot for action while creating a small number of positive, meaningful surprises. This is the essence of successfully differentiated, highly influential guest experiences.

These differentiating elements are the small set of things that get the guests’ attention. They are consistent with the brand promise–a promise fulfilled by a meaningful guest experience.

For example, Holiday Valley Ski Resort is consistently rated among the top five resorts in the Eastern U.S.  Holiday Valley draws skiers who drive from Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Toronto. What makes Holiday Valley distinctive, beyond its diverse terrain and relentless commitment to snow quality, is the accessibility that permeates every aspect of the guest experience.

Holiday Valley

Holiday Valley has three base lodges providing easily accessible food, beverage and retail services.

There is ample, high-speed lift capacity. Three updated, full-service base lodges disperse weekend crowds. There are almost never lines for lunch. There are accommodations, restaurants and attractions at the resort and in nearby Ellicottville, a five minute drive from Holiday Valley. Services are distributed in a way that seems to defy congestion. Traffic, even during high season, is always manageable.

Holiday Valley surprises guests with its ease of movement. A surprising level of accessibility is just one dimension by which you can influence customers. There are many other opportunities. Most are not as capital-intensive as building base lodges!

If You Understand How Guests Experience, You’ll Be Better Prepared to Design Guest Experiences that Glue Patrons to Your Business

Here are a few examples.

Many “central reservations” websites provide experiences that actually feel de-centralized and fragmented to guests. The only centralizing feature is a long list of outbound links to myriad hotels, motels, B&B’s, etc. Sometimes, lodging alternatives can be sorted by number of beds and price. But, that’s pretty much it.

It’s left to the user to figure out where each accommodation is relative to the resort, what it looks like, bed sizes and configurations, whether there’s public transportation, child care, cooking facilities, restaurants, attractions nearby, a fireplace, a view, how past guests have rated their stays…and the list goes on. (I’ve talked before about new vacation planning sites that are capitalizing on this opportunity. They’re making all of this information searchable in online vacation planning tools.)

Other opportunities to positively surprise vacationers abound. For example, we’ve worked with a client to extend the vacation experience. We helped them design guest experiences that positively influenced guests before they arrived at the resort.

Another example: creating new, more meaningful social-bonding opportunities among customers. These bonds help glue guests to providers as well as each other. Vacation clubs are beginning to seize these opportunities.

You can surprise customers when they are researching, planning, booking, paying for, traveling to and traveling from a tourist area. That’s in addition to when they are physically present in your location. We’re working with forward-thinking lodging operators, restaurants, sporting goods providers and retailers to develop and exploit these opportunities. Some of these opportunities involve diverse providers collaborating across the guest experience.

To thrive, leisure and tourism businesses must design guest experiences that positively influence customers. Influential experiences meet two requirements: First, they conform to vacationers’ “auto pilot” patterns of behavior so they can simply unwind and relax. Second, they break from familiar patterns in ways specifically designed to deliver delightful surprises. These are two hallmarks of memorable, influential guest experiences.

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Jay Sherman portraitJay Sherman blogs for and runs a behavioral research firm in Cleveland, Ohio. Clients include over forty Fortune 500 firms, leisure and tourism businesses.

Jay has experience in nearly all aspects of the tourism and leisure industries, including resort sales and marketing, hotel management, retail sporting goods and food and beverage.  Frank Capek contributed to this post.

The Power of Metaphors to Influence Customers

Some leisure and tourism businesses have capitalized on metaphors customers use to assign value. Under Armour ® conveys a protective container. Keystone Resort’s famous restaurant, the Alpenglow Stube, provides a transformative dining experience. It begins with awesome mountain top views and rockets skyward when guests are warmly welcomed by hosts offering plush sheepskin booties to wear during dinner.

The Alpenglow Stube reinforces the transformation metaphor by inviting guests to enjoy cozy sheepskin boots as they dine.

The Alpenglow Stube reinforces the transformation metaphor by inviting guests to enjoy cozy sheepskin boots as they dine.

What metaphors will drive customers to your door, anxious to buy from you? Read on.

Knowing the metaphors customers used to assign meaning to your customer experience can dramatically accelerate your business’s growth.

Researchers at Harvard Business School have identified several metaphors that customers commonly use to assign significance to their experiences. Journey, transformation, resource, and relationship are among them.

So, how do metaphors influence leisure and tourism buyer behavior?

Metaphors are how our brains assign meaning to our experiences. For example, we boil down a fuzzy abstraction, like ‘time’, down to a metaphor that holds more significance for us: a journey. We say, “The past is behind us, and the future is ahead.” We eventually come to the “end of the road,” a reminder of the precious nature of our lives.

My first exposure to the power of metaphors to influence behavior was with Stu Campbell, former ski school director at Heavenly. Stu’s mastery of metaphors was reflected in his ski technique articles in Ski Magazine and his on-snow clinics.

Stu reduced the technical complexities of making carved turns—tilting the ski, angulating at the hip, pressuring the downhill ski, extending one leg and shortening the other–to one simple metaphor: pedaling.

Pedaling was easy to teach my ski school students. It was a metaphor that brought disparate ideas into one meaningful whole. Students intuitively grasped the idea. Most mastered the concept within a few minutes. It immediately influenced how they skied.

In the contexts of innovating and marketing your business, you can dramatically accelerate purchases by understanding and building upon the metaphors customers use to intuit the value of your offering. Building on the customer’s metaphor enables you to configure products, services and

Metaphors influence customer behavior. Here a young skier applies the pedaling metaphor to achieve a new level of mastery.

Metaphors influence customer behavior. Here a young skier applies the pedaling metaphor to achieve a new level of mastery.

experiences that resonate with customers. It pulls customers toward your brand. It demonstrates, “I clearly understand what you want and I’m going to help you get it.”

Here’s one example of how we helped a company adopt the customer’s metaphor. This resulted in innovations that created millions of dollars in incremental revenue.

Like vacations, jewelry is a luxury product category. The executives of a national jewelry store chain thought of their stores as a resource for jewelry. They offered competitive product selections, attractively displayed.

But, as we quickly discovered, resource was not the metaphor customers used to assess value.

We learned that the biggest jewelry purchasers are gift givers. Many are men buying expensive engagement rings. They’ll visit competing brands of jewelry stores. But, when we talked to customers about why they bought jewelry gifts, we made this radical discovery:

Gift givers don’t buy because of a jewelry store’s resources. They buy in accord with the metaphor that compelled them to shop for jewelry in the first place—to invest in their relationships.

Gifts of jewelry are expressions of commitment and love. They are to gift givers deposits in their relationship bank accounts. So, gift givers experience a variety of concerns in their shopping experiences. Will she (or he) like it? If not, can I exchange it or get a refund? If so, will it be a frustrating and potentially embarrassing experience?

Power of metaphors to create customer experiences

Helping gift-givers invest in relationships boosted our client’s jewelry sales 25% nationally.
Photo courtesy

Our client’s new appreciation of the power of customers’ relationship metaphor inspired several significant innovations. (As you read about these changes, think about what you might change in your business if you were to guess at what a more compelling, highly differentiated customer experience could look like.)

Store employees were trained to avoid welcoming shoppers by asking, “May I help you?” Instead, they began asking more engaging questions like, “Are you shopping for someone special?”

With that entrée, salespeople began conspiring with the gift giver to orchestrate a fun gift-giving experience. They probed about the fashion preferences of the recipient. They asked when and where the gift would be bestowed. They offered to wrap the gift in fun and creative boxes, wraps and ribbons.

The chain’s return policy was revamped. Before, buyers could only make exchanges. They had to go back to the same store where they bought the jewelry, which sometimes required driving to another city. They replaced their exchange policy with a no-questions-asked returns policy that provided full refunds or exchanges at any store in their system.

These innovations were promoted by a “Perfect Gift, Guaranteed” brand promise.

The results: Same store sales increased 25% in the next three years, generating millions in incremental revenue.

The implication for leisure and tourism businesses is this: If you design your customer experience around the metaphor the customer uses to assess value, you can dramatically accelerate customer purchases.

So, what’s the metaphor your customers use? This isn’t a question you can answer with a survey, nor with a direct Q&A with customers. But, we can get at this using project interview techniques that surface the hidden, subconscious motivators of vacationers’ behaviors.

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Jay Sherman portraitJay Sherman is the Insights Chief at and CEO of a research and innovation firm in Cleveland, Ohio. Clients include over forty Global 2000 organizations.

Jay has experience in nearly all assets of the tourism leisure industries, Including resort sales and marketing, hotel management, retail sporting goods and food and beverage. More about Jay and VacationBehavior here.

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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