All signs point to strong demand for winter ski travel – but are we ready?
Brought to you by the Steamboat Pilot & Today and the Insights Collective
Steamboat hopes to profit from proactive strategies
Finding the right balance between welcoming visitors and protecting residents in a resort community amid a pandemic is no easy challenge. But marketing strategies the Steamboat Chamber implemented last year may turn out to be silver linings in influencing tourist messaging into the future.
Laura Soard, the chamber’s marketing director, said sending the right message at the right time to visitors has never been more critical. In 2020, the chamber’s tourism marketing campaign was layered to reflect the evolving stages of the pandemic and to load balance tourism accordingly.
Soard said, “Last spring the messaging was, ‘We are a welcoming town but we can’t welcome you now.’ Then in summer, it was a cautious welcome: ‘We’ll be ready for you when the time is right.’ Then after that, it was the typical messaging: ‘Welcome to Steamboat Springs, here’s what you can do here.’ ”
This year, Soard again is monitoring a variety of factors to gauge when to adjust marketing themes so that the right message is reaching the right person at the right time.
“We’re emphasizing fall,” Soard said of the current focus. “We can see how summer goes and tailor our messaging accordingly. We are able to see what those macro and micro conditions are and see how much messaging we put out, where and when.”
Direct messages influence behaviors
One interesting lesson Soard took away from 2020 is that tourism messaging can be more direct in encouraging Steamboat visitors to exhibit positive behaviors. She no longer worries such messaging might be considered too aggressive.
“If anything, I’ve learned we need to be more upfront in expressing the needs of our community,” Soard said. “We will definitely continue in our marketing to visitors that we’re glad they’re here, but they need to respect our rules, our public spaces, our public lands.”
As we look forward, whether it be this immediate summer or more distant winter, post-pandemic demand will bring with it a few challenges. Some of these will be new and others reoccurring, but all can be anticipated and thus premeditated.
If the floodgates are thrown open in the name of economic prosperity, there is the potential for resident pushback and renewed concern for over-tourism. If the wrong re-opening and re-welcoming strategy is deployed, resorts run the risk of coming across as under-prepared.
Tom Foley, SVP of business process and analytics at Inntopia, explained the situation. “There are several ways to indicate strength for summer, but perhaps the most notable is by comparing current revenue gains.”
Revenue forecast data shows the potential for 2021 to outperform 2020 significantly. (Source: Inntopia)
“We can also be encouraged by looking at data on rate strategy intention,” added Foley, “where the left side of the chart confirms a decline in properties intending to lower rates.”
Fewer properties are indicating they intend to lower rates this summer, a good indicator of the potential for a strong season. (Source: Inntopia)
With revenue up and lodging discounts down, will the good times continue into winter?
“Many in the industry are anticipating strong pent-up demand this summer. But you must ask what happens after that? Not all the market is ready or willing to travel. The immediate surge is just part of the market,” said Carl Ribaudo, president and chief strategist of SMG Consulting.
Other headwinds include newly discovered COVID-19 variants, vaccine distribution uncertainty along with newly announced side-effects and subsequent halt of distributing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, not to mention potential pushback against origin markets with high caseloads.
Industry response has been to limit supply in the name of visitor experience
Even as the industry aims to overcome uncertainty, many resorts have responded to COVID concerns by limiting physical access to the mountain, said Dave Belin, director of consulting services with RRC Associates.
“We’re hearing from many ski areas in different parts of the country that they are planning to continue some form of limiting capacity on peak days, whether through caps on weekend ticket sales or parking limits on busy days,” he said. “The explicit reason is to preserve the visitor experience, a concept that applies to many other tourism destinations like beaches, theme parks or national parks.”
Belin is of course mostly referring to the recent capacity announcement from Arapahoe Basin. For decades, a key strategy for Arapahoe Basin was to add more skiers. That is no longer the case. The ski area is now actively working to reduce the number of skiers on weekends and holidays.
Arapahoe Basin will measure success by reducing parking challenges, keeping lift lines and other service lines short and by seeing smiling skier faces. This approach is a big “tell” about their future strategy: manage fewer people, lower operational expenses and increase demand.
Fewer visitors may positively impact quality of place, but if resorts are successful in managing expectations they will still be faced with staff-shortages, which has the potential to dilute the visitor experience.
Preventing negative reviews is vital to bringing visitors back
When their experience is less than what they expect, negative word of mouth will spread on social media and other review sites – capping any efforts to promote the destination and welcome back travelers. Fewer visitors also have an impact on retail operations – less people walking past the stores mean fewer opportunities to ring the cash register.
For resorts that are able to add appropriate levels of staff, a new challenge awaits. “Another issue facing resort communities will be where to house the labor force,” noted Ralf Garrison, destination resort advisor with The Advisory Group, “especially if affluent visitors extend their summer stay into winter – depleting the available housing supply.
As travelers make decisions about where to go this summer and winter, the opportunity is ours. Getting the supply variables right is a step in the right direction to a positive visitor experience.
Insights Collective; a Tourism Economy Think Tank and Resource Center – is a collaboration of destination travel industry experts who are collaborating and working, together with mountain resort communities and their stakeholders, to understand, plan, and navigate through the emerging tourism marketplace. http://www.TheInsightsCollective.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
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