Boosting summer tourism

Ski corp. using e-mail, reservation center to lure vacationers

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— The Steamboat Springs Ski and Resort Corp. is taking a more active role in promoting tourism this summer. And it's using e-mail campaigns as a cost effective means of promoting two and three-night packages to people seeking to escape the Front Range for a long weekend.

Paula Sears, who manages Steamboat Springs Central Reservations for the ski corp., said summer reservations through her operation are up 4 percent compared to last year at this time. She declined to give specific figures, but the number of summer vacation packages booked by central reservations this summer is in excess of 1,000 she said.

"Our hottest package is the summer breakaway," Sears said. "People can book two nights and get one free. If they buy a gondola ride, they get one free. That one, we're selling like crazy."

Those packages begin as low as $93 per adult and have generated 10 percent of total package sales thus far, Sears said.

Ski corp. Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth also serves on the chamber's marketing committee. He said the ski corp.'s motivation for increasing its involvement in summer tourism is several-fold. The ski corp. believes it can cross market winter vacations to Steamboat's summer visitors. Wirth also wants to ensure that Central Reservations, which is owned by the ski corp., stays busy, keeping its travel and reservations experts fully employed. Finally, through its new division, the Travel Center at Steamboat, the ski corp. is building on the experience it has gained with the airlines during the winter season, Wirth said. Its purpose includes selling bulk airfares and packaging them with summer lodging and activities.

"We have always tried to promote Steamboat as a year-round destination," Wirth said. "Central Res. is an important division of our company and we have some of the most talented travel and reservations agents in the business."

The summer packages are gaining significant mileage from an e-mail marketing campaign that costs very little to mount, Wirth said..

Wirth said the ski area is promoting the summer packages via e-mail to its core customers through its in-house mailing list. Other mailing lists are purchased by the ski corp. The e-mail campaigns are conducted on a weekly and biweekly basis. In all cases, the ski corp. adheres strictly to permission standards for its e-mail campaigns, Wirth said. He has high confidence that e-mail is an effective way to reach Steamboat's target market because he knows that 98 percent of Steamboat's existing customers are on line.

"Our e-mail databases are a real significant factor," Wirth said.

Not only is e-mail low cost, Wirth said, but studies show the campaigns build a long-term relationship with customers.

Vacations booked through Central Reservations represent a minority share of the overall vacation booking business in Steamboat.

During the winter, Central Reservations books 28 percent of the local resort business. That number slips to 18 percent in summer. Lodging properties and activities businesses join central reservations and pay a commission on reservations it takes. However, most of those businesses also pursue reservations independently. In winter, wholesale travel agents also make a large contribution to overall tourism.

The summer packages can be found on both the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association's Web page and the ski corp.'s Web page. Sears said the ski area and chamber also are aggressively promoting "fly and drive" packages through Denver International Airport this summer, through a new ski corp. endeavor, "The Travel Center at Steamboat."

Local travel agents can book through the travel center and receive a 10-percent commission she added.

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