SUISSE news Winter 2017
Nearly everywhere, the industry is facing the challenge of generating long term growth. In many places, the market is more than mature and the baby-boomers represent the majority of participants. This generation will progressively exit some of the mature markets without being adequately replaced by future generations with the same enthusiasm for skiing. The need to stimulate the market is extremely important and not always sufficiently addressed. In developing markets this is also an issue. Everywhere, the challenge is to attract a younger generation that has different consumption patterns, that zaps quickly from one interest to the next, and that is in great demand for all kinds of competing activities.
As already experienced by ski areas that have been actively looking for solutions, gaining new customers by attracting non-skiers and converting them into loyal participants is far from a done deal. It requires a significant effort and the situation only improves very slowly. Innovation and customer relationship management is the key. The first not only concerns lifts (much has already been done in this area), but everything that is related to improving the mountain experience, and in some countries this starts with lodging. It is difficult to attract clients for one week of wonderful skiing, using state-of-the-art lifts, grooming and snowmaking, if guests have to spend the time they are not skiing in substandard hotel rooms and restaurants. Newcomers to the industry are often well integrated and capable of offering modern facilities for every aspect of the product, and are also fun places to vacation. Thus, if traditional destinations still want to compete, they need to better manage the quality of their infrastructure, equipment and services throughout the entire resort. Technology will help service-oriented operators to closely monitor the needs and desires of their customers and to put together customised offers. In this globalised world, everyone appreciates personalised service. The Internet made it possible for now more than 10 years to offer one-stop shopping where clients are able to take care of all their needs. Unfortunately, this is not yet widely spread in the ski resort industry, and especially in the traditional markets that suffer from stagnating demand.
Even though the Internet and mobile apps are powerful sales and promotional tools for the existing customer base, and even though most ski areas recognise the need to be present on social media 38, it has failed up to this point as a tool to help grow the global ski market. There has simply been a swap in the promotional channels. Marketing operations have changed somewhat, but this has not enabled new market development. The Internet and mobile technology certainly have their strengths, but these strengths are currently limited and mitigated by their drawbacks. In fact, the web and mobile apps enhance communication, facilitate bookings, travel arrangements, daily package sales and make snow conditions more transparent for skiers. The latter already presents some adverse effects. Both direct and indirect competition has increased, and has been enhanced by technology, as has communications. The web is itself a competitor, such as when young people choose to spend time in front of their screens instead of heading to the slopes! The benefits of the Internet are also available to all competing industries. Finally, the web and mobile apps have failed to provide the ability to reach non- skiers on a massive scale and transform them into enthusiastic participants; they do not teach one to ski nor help one to practice!
Independent from the potential benefits that the industry can gain from the technology, the customer experience will only be complete when the virtual purchase turns into a reality. At this stage, careful attention should be paid to maximise guest satisfaction. Service quality and friendly human interactions are required to truly produce an exceptional customer experience. This has become the reality in tourism and for ski resorts as well. The potential for improvement still leaves the future wide open for those players in the industry that clearly understand these issues. The market demands convenience and those that figure out how to supply it will win.
Given the new generation that is targeted everywhere, this report will conclude with a special note about ski learning and instruction. This is where convenience and experience may be the most challenging! This is also one of the first pieces of the ski experience puzzle. If the industry does not figure out how to turn the tedious learning process into a great time, it will fail in capturing the interest of the new generation of potential skiers that is desperately needed to fill the newly built resorts in Asia and Eastern Europe and to renew the baby-boomers customer base in the traditional markets.
Excerpted from: Laurent Vanat, 2017 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism