Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy New Year

New Year fireworks at Park City Utah
With the New Year fast approaching, here are ten consumer trends which will influence the future of winter sport tourism over the next 12 months:

1. Learning and enrichment
One of the major trends in tourism today is the desire of the tourist to have a learning experience as a part of the vacation. A recent survey found that half of North American travellers want to visit art, architectural, or historic sites on vacations, while one-third would like to learn a new skill or activity. Today’s travelers are seeking experiences that provide them with a greater insight, increased understanding, and a personal connection to the people and places they visit. Learning and enrichment travel refers to vacations that provide opportunities for authentic, hands-on, or interactive learning experiences, featuring themes such as adventure, agriculture, anthropology, archaeology, arts, culture, cuisine, education, forestry, gardening, language, maritime culture, mining, nature, science, spirituality, sports, wine, and wildlife – to name only a few!

Les Deux Alpes,
The ski industry is responding to this trend by offering a number of programs that combine winter sports and learning opportunities. A good example is The Learning Curve Institute in Europe that offers Snowboard & Ski Language Camps for students from all over the world to meet new friends through skiing or snowboarding whilst also becoming fluent in a foreign language. Students are fully immersed in either French or Spanish for the duration of the camp, which takes place in Les Deux Alpes, France, and they receive daily ski and snowboard tuition in the language they are learning. The ethos of the camps is ‘learning, safety and fun’ with an emphasis being put equally on each of these three core aspects.
2. Ethical consumption
In the last few decades, responsible tourism has emerged as a significant trend in the Western world, as wider consumer market trends towards lifestyle marketing and ethical consumption have spread to tourism. Tourism organizations are beginning to realize that promoting their ethical stance can be good business as it potentially enhances a company’s profits, management effectiveness, public image and employee relations.

International leisure travelers are also increasingly motivated to select a destination for the quality of its environmental health and the diversity and integrity of its natural and cultural resources. Studies indicate that environmental considerations are now a significant aspect of travellers’ destination-choosing process. According to a study in 2012, the ‘green’ travel trend is gaining momentum, as 71 per cent of travellers surveyed said they planned to make more eco-friendly choices in the ensuing 12 months compared to 65 per cent the previous year (TripAdvisor, 2012).

In response to these trends, the ski industry as a whole is recognizing the need to strive toward adopting environmentally-friendly policies and practices. A number of individual tourism industry associations, such as the Banff Lake Louise Tourism Bureau, the Ontario Snow Resorts Association (Rutty et al., 2014), and individual ski resorts in Canada and the U.S.A., have shown leadership on climate change by voluntarily adopting greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets. Other ski resorts in North America have signed up to the Sustainable Slopes Charter (adopted by the U.S.A. ski industry in 2000), which provides an overarching framework for ski areas regarding sustainability and enhanced environmental performance. 

3. Health-consciousness
Consumers are increasingly health-conscious, and in the U.S., the market segment that is focused on health and fitness, has been labeled the LOHAS segment. LOHAS is an acronym for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, and describes an estimated $290 billion marketplace for goods and services focused on health, the environment, social justice, personal development and sustainable living (French & Rogers, 2010). Research shows that one in four adult Americans is part of this group—nearly 41 million people. A more health-conscious society is often attributed to the influence of the baby boomer. Baby boomers are generally healthier, financially better off, better educated, and more interested in novelty, escape, and authentic experiences than were previous cohorts of older people. But younger generations, too, are health and wellness focused. Millennials, for example, are dieting less frequently than other generations, but consuming fewer calories daily. They spend money on gym memberships, running gear and energy bars and seek out specific health foods like whole grain breads, nuts and seeds, and quinoa (Forbes Consulting Group, 2012). This generation is also driving the demand for self-tracking technologies (Ericksson Consumer Lab, 2013).

Montage Deer Valley Spa
The tourism sector is responding to this health-conscious trend with health and wellness centers springing up in many destinations. Mountain resorts, for example, are combining alternative health and wellness services with winter sport tourism. The Montage, Deer Valley, for example, has a signature spa treatment called SURRENDER that creates a customized regimen for each guest which is transferable to other Montage properties. The Montage is also responding to the demand for healthier foods. Culinary teams collect copious notes on dietary restrictions of customers so that associates can address the guests in advance of their orders when they come to the tables, helping reassure guests that they are recognized and that their dietary needs are being taken to heart in preparing their meals. 

Whitehorn Lodge, Lake Louise - photo by
Chris Moseley
In keeping with this trend, ski resorts in general have been improving their restaurant and café offerings over the past decade, adding vegetarian, vegan, gluten- and dairy-free options, emphasizing local and fresh ingredients. There has been a gradual movement away from the more typical fast food fare in North American ski resorts, towards the fine dining that has traditionally characterized European resorts - for example, Lake Louise's Whitehorn Lodge and, brand new this season, Kuma Yama Sushi Bar.

4. Customization
Consumers are increasingly looking for customized solutions that fit their specific needs, becoming more engaged with product creation (BDC, 2013). In the travel industry, requests for customized and personalized vacations are rising sharply, and both agents and traditional tour operators are changing their businesses to meet that demand. In addition to booking air and hotel reservations, agents and outfitters today are arranging customized wine tastings, visits to artisan workshops, and private after-hours tours of attractions such as the British Crown Jewels and the Vatican. Destinations attracting winter sport tourists are responding to this trend. At the Grand America in Salt Lake City, for instance, Director of Guest Experience, Annie Fitzgerald says: “We ensure all employees are empowered to make each guest’s stay exceptional and a personalized experience. If our employees learn something about our guests that will enhance their stay, we will recognize and deliver. For example, if we learn upon arrival that a couple is celebrating an anniversary, we will deliver a cake and card wishing them a Happy Anniversary, likewise with honeymoon couples who receive chocolate covered strawberries and a card. We recognize birthdays and we love taking care of guests who bring their children. We often provide balloons or small welcome toys for the little ones.”

The Grand America, Salt Lake City, Utah
Skiers in The Courtyard at
The Grand America, Salt Lake City
The Grand America also has a ‘Grand Ambassador’ whose role is to ensure that all repeat guests are recognized appropriately. “Our operating system will track all of our guest preferences, and our Ambassador then reviews all reservations and prepares for these requests,” says Fitzgerald. Requests can range from a preference for a special room or view, to the type of linens a guest requires to be comfortable. “All of these things make the Grand America truly a home away from home and ensure the retention of our guests”.       

5. Convenience and speed
The increasing desire for convenience and speed is having a great impact on various sectors of the tourism industry. In the restaurant sector, drive-through sales are on the rise; in transportation, self check-in terminals are increasingly popular; and in accommodation, business travellers are seeking convenient rooms for shorter stays. An example of the latter is the hotel concept introduced at Heathrow and Gatwick Airports in the U.K. Owing much to Japanese ‘capsule hotels’, Yotel cabins are a cross between a hotel and a first-class airline seat. Each self-contained cabin has a double rotating bed, and facilities include an ensuite bathroom with shower, a flat-screen television and a pull-down desk.

Ski Butlers 
Room service with Ski Butlers
There is also the suggestion that travel in the future will be geo-local, meaning that people will travel much closer to their home – more within their homeland and continent, and less outside it. This desire for convenience and speed has also influenced the services on offer in ski resorts. A good example is the Ski Butlers service that makes renting ski and snowboard equipment convenient and hassle-free all for the same price or less than most resort ski shops. Founded in 2004 in Park City, UtahSki Butlers now serves over 30 North American resorts in Colorado, California, Utah, Wyoming and British Columbia, Canada. The key to Ski Butlers’ success and growth is customer service, according to president and founder, Bryn Carey. “Ski Butlers was founded on customer service and today thrives on customer service. Taking the hassle out of renting skis, hiring exceptional team members, and offering the highest level of equipment, all for an affordable price, is a different model than most ski rental shops. We like to have the Starbucks feel to our service,” said Mr. Carey. “Customers can expect the same exceptional service, with new Rossignol equipment, at all locations. Customers can also save their info online so new reservations take only a few moments. These are the benefits you don’t see from other ski shops.”

6. Spiritual enlightenment
The desire for spiritual enlightenment on a vacation has led to a boom in religious tourism. Even monks are taking advantage of this growing trend. Monasteries and temples provide the perfect backdrop for peaceful periods of mediation, prayer and reflection for world-weary business men and women. Often set in beautiful scenery, more religious institutions are jumping on the tourism bandwagon and opening their facilities for one– to three–day stays. South Koreans, for example, have around 36 different Buddhist temples to choose from for their retreats from everyday life. The notion of combining religion and tourism is also gaining momentum in other countries, notably Japan, where the Wakayama region is attracting daytrippers from Kyoto and Nara. Visitors can also stay overnight in rooms ranging from simple to luxurious. With views of the Pacific from ancient forest trails, tourists learn about Shinto and Buddhist theory by day. By night, accompanying their vegetarian meals served by the monks, guests can also enjoy sake and beer.

Grizzly Bowl at Sundance, Utah - Photo by Willie Holdman
Winter sports resorts are responding to this demand for spiritual enlightenment on a vacation. Sundance in Utah, for example, has several spiritual learning classes for visitors including a Mindfulness Meditation class that, according to the resort, “will show you how to discover the nature of our mind and begin to actualize its extraordinary potential for lasting happiness through the joyful and heart-opening path of compassion and wisdom. This 30-minute class is designed to strengthen your body, quiet your mind and bring your body, mind and spirit in harmony.” Another Morning Yoga at Sundance class combines the most useful elements of Beginning and Advanced Hatha, Vinyasa and Ashtanga Yoga, “leaving you feeling empowered and awake.” Sundance also offers a Nature Walk whereby a “knowledgeable and caring expert will guide you along your unique path to greater peace, balance and awareness using practices from Native American traditions as well as introduce you to the legend of Mount Timpanogos.” The website encourages participants by promising “a physical and spiritual uplifting, the chirping of birds, the sound of the snow crunching under your snowshoes, a beauty of a fresh morning air, calm environment.”

7. Service quality
Mountain Thunder Lodge, Breckenridge
Service quality has been increasingly identified as a key factor in differentiating service products and building a competitive advantage in the ski industry. Becoming customer-centered and exceeding customer expectations are now requirements for business success. In Colorado, Vail Resorts is always looking for innovative ways to exceed expectations and drive loyalty. “We have a program called Epic Wishes,” says Ashley Lowe, Senior Manager of Communications. “Staff are empowered to seek out guests who mention on social media that they’re coming to visit, and we find a unique experience to offer them to enhance their Epic Vacation. Examples include providing birthday cake, giving rides in grooming cats to kids, and offering a woman who injured herself on her first day of skiing a free spa treatment and dinner.” Lowe acknowledges that these initiatives need to come from the top. She points to one General Manager, Jonathan Fillman, of Mountain Thunder Lodge in Breckenridge, who routinely sends hand written notes to his guests, and encourages his staff to do so as well. When a recent guest commented on TripAdvisor that it was his seventh stay at Mountain Thunder Lodge and he loved it, Jonathan sought him out, discovered he was still staying at the property, and asked him how he could make his stay better. “The gentleman said he was going to hike a 14’er the next day and asked Jonathan if he knew how to get there. Jonathan replied, “Do I know how to get there? I’ll take you there!”  Jonathan picked the guest up at 4am the next morning and did the full hike with him.”

8. Engagement and connectivity
The Internet has upended how consumers engage with ski resorts. After visiting, they often enter into an open-ended relationship with the resort, sharing their experiences online through social media. Tourists are also demanding constant connectivity, and resorts are responding to this with destinations like Alpendorf and Sölden in Austria installing free Wi-Fi access points within their entire ski areas.
Alpendforf’s website boasts “with over 300 Wi-Fi hotspots in the Ski amadé you will be able to access the internet no matter where you are.” Val Thorens in France also offers free Wi-Fi through Aerohive Wi-Fi terminals. “We want to offer our users quality optimal service in order to improve their stay in the resort. We anticipate their needs by providing them with Wi-Fi access in our ski lifts,” says Eric Bonnel, SETAM ski lift company's sales and marketing manager (Val Thorens United, 2014).
Made famous by the James Bond movie, Spectre: IceQ at sunset- ©Bergbahnen Soelden by Rudi Wyhlidal
We are also witnessing a new mobile lifestyle (Roberti, 2011) that is revolutionizing where, when, and how we communicate personally and with businesses. Skiers and snowboarders are much more likely to own mobile devices than are general U.S. travellers, and such high mobile device ownership affects the entire ski travel life cycle: ski travellers are more likely to research, shop for and share their ski travel experiences through their smartphones and tablets, and the ski and travel industries must be prepared to reach and influence these higher-spending travellers across mobile media.
9. The blurring of business and leisure travel
Qualtrics Insight Summit
Ski Day at Park City Feb 2015
The lines between business and leisure travel are becoming increasingly blurred. A recent Expedia study found that 56 per cent of Millennials expand their business trips into leisure trips (Newcombe, 2014). Mobile devices are having a profound effect on the traditionally defined silos between managed and unmanaged travel. A recent study found that 43 per cent of international travellers always take their mobile professional devices with them on holiday or on weekend trips (Ali et al., 2013). This presents new opportunities for airlines, hotels and destinations alike, all of which have to configure their services to be flexible. Conference and meeting planners also have to be cognizant of these changes, ensuring that they incorporate an element of leisure when they plan their meetings. An example is a conference organized by research specialists, Qualtrics, at Salt Lake City in February 2015 which included a day’s skiing in Park City.

Ski resorts are recognizing this trend and are aggressively targeting business travelers. The Edelweiss Hotel at the foot of the Alberg in Austria, for example, promotes itself as the ideal conference or business incentive destination. Promotional material promises seminars and incentives in the Arlberg that “will leave an unforgettable impression on all participants. Enhance motivation, loyalty and team spirit in an Incentive in the Arlberg: While skiing in, while dining together and while relaxing and celebrating in the bars and lounges.” Ski destinations are also equipping themselves to satisfy the technology demands of business travelers. Tour operators, too, are catering for travellers who want to combine business with time on the snow. Travelplan Ski Holidays, based in Australia, for instance, offers a range of conferences for professionals in some of the world's best ski resorts. Over the years Travelplan has offered a variety of specially designed conferences at ski resorts such as Aspen SnowmassFernieWhistler BlackcombSun Peaks and Steamboat “that ensure you maximize your skiing time whilst you learn”.
10. Experiences
A key innovation in today’s business is experiences. Firms across a variety of industries from health care to airlines to automobiles are developing strategies around providing meaningful customer experiences (Schmitt, 2003). The ‘experience economy’ was a term coined by Pine and Gilmore (1999) to describe the business of selling experiences. They described experiences as a fourth economic offer, one that is distinctly different from the traditional commodities, goods and services that drive economic growth. Using a theatrical analogy, they describe ‘services’ as the stage used to create experiences and ‘goods’ as the props that are used in planning and sequencing a series of memorable events. Pine and Gilmore provide examples of how large companies like Walt Disney welcome guests, engage visitors, and provide an endless array of interactive experiences.

In an environment of ever more sophisticated consumers, those who deliver memorable customer experiences consistently create superior value and competitive advantage (Voss, 2003). Some of the benefits of delivering experiences are happy customers, repeat business, increased sales, enhanced brand identity, free marketing via word of mouth referrals and the creation of an emotional bond with customers. The benefits of creating experiences for customers is gaining momentum and demonstrating its business value in the tourism industry. In 2002, the World Tourism Organization reported a shift from active holidays to holidays as an experience (Klancnik, 2002). A survey sponsored by American Express found that the number one ranked ‘most-memorable experience’ for consumers was connected to a holiday (Buhasz & Bisby, 2005). Demand is growing for authentic travel that engages the senses, stimulates the mind, includes unique activities, and connects in personal ways with travelers in an emotional, physical, spiritual or intellectual level. A related trend is ‘experience caching’ whereby consumers continually collect, store and display their experiences for private use, or for friends, family, even the entire world to peruse.
Washington School House, Park City, Utah
Crater Yoga with Washington School House, Park City
The ski industry is responding to these demands, as it is naturally keen to attract new customers, repeat guests, and meet the needs of niche and mainstream markets interested in experiential travel. These companies are experience providers who sequence and stage carefully choreographed activities, personal encounters, and authentic experiences, designed to create long lasting memories, engaging travel, and increased customer loyalty. A good example can be found at the Washington School House in Park City Utah. Apart from winter sports, the hip town's newest luxury boutique hotel, offers guests one of the most unusual winter activities with yoga deep inside a 10,000-year-old crater at The Homestead Resort. The instructor demonstrates yoga poses from the dock while guests move and bend on paddleboards that float in the 90-plus-degree natural therapeutic pool. And to satisfy demand for ‘experience caching’, the hotel produces a motion picture for guests with a snapshot of their entire trip. A videographer snaps photos and film a day’s worth of live footage, and following the visit, guests receive their very own edited feature film and photo book.

You can read more about the Winter Sport Tourism industry in my latest book:

And please also check out my most recent articles in the US ski press: 

Dec 14 Dallas Morning News – Millennials

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