Are ski destinations and operators leading a social and tech wave in travel?
Both North American and European ski destinations are entering the peak period for 2014, as millions of beginners, experts – and those somewhere in middle – head to the slopes.
The classic ski trip is, some might argue, one of the most “experiential” of travel types available – stunning views, demanding, rewarding, adrenalin-fuelled, fun, and full of opportunities to meet new people or socialise with friends and family.
As a result, those unfortunate not to be heading to the Rockies or Alps are bombarded with countless images and videos shared on social networks such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and, especially, Pinterest and Instagram.
A great experience, inevitably, triggers a need to share (indeed, show off) in this social media-led age.
Furthermore, technology such as RFID is used extensively in many resorts to manage lift access and ensure skiers get up their various green or black slopes as quickly as possible.
But given this widespread use of fairly cutting edge technology, and a desire by travellers to record and share their experiences, some might argue that resorts and the operators that bus in guests in the droves are actually not making the most of the opportunity.
One answer could be: “Probably not as much as they should, if at all.”
So why not?
The folks at EpicMix seem to have taken the idea to the extreme (to use some skiing lingo). The service, which is heavily integrated into the Vail resort in North America, allows users to track their runs down slopes using the RFID technology in their ski passes.
They can then share their routes, capture pictures and images and share across multiple networks.
EpicMix has even created a “leaderboard” so users can mark their activities and compare their scores (speed, duration, etc) against fellow travellers in the resort. Skiing and snowboarding is, after all, a reasonably hedonistic pastime and people naturally want to see how they rank against others.
This type of service is, in some respects, in isolation – ski operators in Europe and elsewhere, as well as the resorts in which they operate, seem to limit their social and technological prowess to Facebook pages and the dreaded QR codes.
On the one hand, operators should (and could quite easily) actively encourage their guests to share the hell out of their experiences – but, generally, do not.
Smart marketers should realise that such social activity would be great branding and the content is, well, inspirational. Some operators, such as the TUI Travel-owned Crystal Ski, are kind of there but could clearly do more.
The same could be said for the destinations themselves – reminding visitors throughout a resort, on lifts, at the top of mountains, to make sure they snap a selfie, record a Vine, etc. And, crucially, share it on the resort’s Facebook page.
So why haven’t more resorts and operators thrown themselves head first into an EpicMix-type system?
Speaking to us last year, Ron Schneidermann, a co-founder and chief marketing officer of North American ski services provider Liftopia, said many resorts in his region have been “pretty progressive” with embracing content sharing on social networks.
(Maybe it’s a US-Canada thing)
But he argues that EpicMix-type services are difficult to be successful en masse in ski resorts.
“Most resorts are independent entities and not part of a broader network, and most do under 300,000 visits a year during a very compressed timeframe.”
What about encouraging resorts or hotels to build mobile application to at least facilitate social sharing, which could also lead to hi-tech developments further down the line?
“We consistently advise them to stay away from the trap of building an app or any other sort of proprietary social network. We’d say the same to an independent hotel or activity provider, anyone that doesn’t have the breadth and depth of a one-to-many relationship.
“The return simply isn’t there. It’s incredibly expensive and labor intensive to produce an app of quality, and the ability to leverage the app to capture new customers from a fixed customer base that’s geographically sensitive is highly unlikely.”
So, in reality, there is a bit of dilemma for operators and resorts to perhaps embrace technology and ultra-social tools similar to the EpicMix experience.
Vail, perhaps inevitably due to its high-end position in the skiing ecosystem, may remain the leader for some time in this area – with other resorts lagging behind due to a combination of infrastructure issues, costs and enthusiasm.
Still, many would concede that there is plenty the operators could do to take advantage of the experiential elements of the ski trip beyond just asking customers to like a Facebook page.
NB: Skiing image via Shutterstock.
Kevin is senior editor and a co-founder at Tnooz. He was previously editor of UK-based magazine Travolution and web editor of Media Week UK from 2003 to 2005.
He has worked in regional newspapers (Essex Enquirer) and started his career at the Police Gazette at New Scotland Yard in London. He has a degree in criminology, a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism and publishes his first book - a biography about Depeche Mode - in early-2017.