Saturday, October 26, 2002
Steamboat Springs Steamboat Ski Area officials are expressing early optimism about the first stretch of winter based in part on a survey that tells them last year's skiers were more inclined to return to Ski Town USA than at any time in the past.
But they won't even begin to compare this year's early reservations to the autumn of 2001.
"We're actually quite pleased with the pace of reservations," said Andy Wirth, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. vice president of marketing. "Virtually everything we're looking at in terms of pacing of bookings is ahead year over two years ago. But it's simply not appropriate to compare to last year."
Simply put, 2001 was an anomaly.
One year ago, resort officials here were faced with uncertainty about the coming ski season. With public confidence shaken by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, they watched an early lead over September 2000 gradually erode until reservations on Oct. 25, 2001 were off by 8 percent. They expected to take a big hit during the holidays, and couldn't be sure what the new year would bring. Travel consultants were telling them that 35 percent of people contacted for a scientific survey said they expected to cancel a domestic trip in the months ahead.
Eventually, last ski season rebounded to historic norms skiers visits of just over one million but that's been the case for a decade.
Wirth declined to give specific percentage comparisons between reservations to date this year, and the same date in 2000.
This year represents a different story than last autumn. It's far too early to foretell how robust tourism will be this winter typically by this date Steamboat has booked 25 to 30 percent of its business for the entire ski season and the primary marketing push is just beginning to kick in.
Wirth said not only is the week after Christmas this year on track to be busier than Christmas 2000, but the week before Christmas is also surprisingly strong. That's surprising
because Steamboat's research shows there are very few major markets with significant school vacations before Dec. 25, he added.
Wirth said his staff is convinced that early reservations at Steamboat are tracking ahead of their competition in Colorado and a significant reason is a decision to devote more resources to pursuing repeat business this year. He bases that conclusion in part on conversations he has had with insiders at other ski resorts.
Steamboat marketers were emboldened to go after repeat business in a bigger way this off season after the annual chairlift survey the conducted by the ski area produced some surprising results.
Vacationers were asked to rank on a scale from 1 to 10 the likelihood they would return to Steamboat this winter. With 1 signifying no chance they would return and 10 signifying a certain return, the mean response was an 8.1.
"That's the highest we've ever been," Wirth said.
Steamboat is responding with aggressive direct mail campaigns under the theme "RSVIP." The initials stand for "Returning skiers are Very Important People."
The ski area is attempting to bolster the campaign by devoting marketing dollars to partnerships with specific lodging properties in an effort to entice their guests from last winter to return to the same property.
Wirth said some people might question the wisdom of devoting marketing dollars to people who have already been identified as likely to return. But he said classic consumer behavior principles teach that there is always a gap between people who say they intend to be a repeat customer, and those who actually act on that statement. The challenge is to close that gap. In Steamboat's case, history has taught that the gap is between 15 and 20 percent. The marketing pieces aimed at last winter's customers are targeted to shrink that percentage of no shows.
No single factor can account for the strong inclination of last winter's guests to return, Wirth said. Although last winter produced an average snowfall, Wirth speculates that Steamboat had better conditions than many other resorts.
He also feels that discounted packages put into place to attract post Sept. 11 travelers gave vacationers a heightened sense of value.
Steamboat also befitted by sticking to its traditional marketing values post-Sept .11 Wirth said.
"We've been sticking to our core strength," he said, "and we've delivered."