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Is SnowTrax the ‘Next Big Thing’ for Resort Marketing?

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GREGG
BLANCHARD
       



We’ve all heard of Travelocity and we’ve all heard of Liftopia. A new company, however, hopes to combine the best of both of these concepts.
SnowTrax, a subsidiary of Airfare.com, has been in the works for two years but just launched live services only a few months ago.

While the site design looks pretty old-school and bugs are a plenty (according to their calculator it takes a little under two hours to drive the 20 miles from Ogden, UT to Snowbasin) SnowTrax also shows huge potential. Here are the full details from Evvie Meier, a project manager at SnowTrax:

SlopeFillers:How long has SnowTrax been around and where did the idea come from?
Evvie: SnowTrax has been in creation since 2008, but just launched this August. Official promotions began in October. Our parent company, Airfare.com, has been in business since 1979. The idea was to create a niche travel website specifically targeted at a special interest travel group in order to meet the unique needs of this group. Rather than satisfy some of the needs of the larger travel market, our goal is to be the ultimate resource for a specific travel market.

For the ski market, this means stressing the importance of hotel or vacation rental precise location, particularly in relation to the ski lifts and ski shuttle bus stops. Also, calculating precise airport-to-ski resort drive times and offering travelers multiple arrival airport options so they can weigh the costs/benefits of flying into a smaller, closer airport (like Aspen) versus a larger airport hub that may involve a transfer (like Denver). These are just some of the many features that cater to the ski traveler specifically, and don’t make as much sense for other types of travel.

SlopeFillers: How do you differ from other lift ticket or travel websites?
Evvie: SnowTrax has many features that users won’t find anywhere else on the web. To name a few:

  • Multi-destination search: we compare real-time prices at 5+ ski resorts simultaneously. We stress the importance of real-time pricing since many ski resort lodging sites operate on a “quote-request” basis that requires that the bookings are ultimately processed via call center. The multi-destination search technology empowers users to get the most travel for their dollar: if users are flexible with their destination (perhaps they’re happy to ski Tahoe, Beaver Creek, Whistler, or Jackson Hole, for example) they can compare flight/hotel pricing on one screen. Lift ticket sales will be up and live within weeks.
  • Inspiration Engine meets Booking Engine: SnowTrax’s utility is two fold: first, we help undecided travelers narrow their destination options by filtering the continent’s top ski resorts based on dozens of qualities. Users can pick the qualities that matter most to them, including terrain difficulty, recent snowfall, best snowboarding, best ski schools, best nightlife, ski resorts with airports nearby offering nonstop flight access from the user’s departure airport, ski resorts with villages, heli-skiing and more. After users have narrowed down their desired destinations, they can continue through to see pricing.
  • Drive-to Destinations: most ski travel sites on the web focus only on the top ‘destination’ ski resorts, leaving users who may prefer to drive to a resort with few options. On our home-page, users can opt to “drive-to” their destination, input their home city, and choose a maximum preferred drive-time to see all of the ski resorts within X hours drive-time.
  • Vacation Optimization: One of the site’s main goals is to provide tools intelligent enough that users no longer need to spend hours comparing different dates, airports, flight times in tedious searches. One example of this intelligence is our “Vacation Optimizer” – we highlight alternative flight options that will get the traveler on the mountain with time to ski on their date of landing, departure, or both, for an incremental cost. For skiers looking to pack the most value into their trip, this incremental cost may prove to be worth it for the extra time on the slopes.

(a few screenshots that Evvie provided)
   

SlopeFillers: What role does the resort play in the system? Do they have a way to control what prices and offers you show?
Evvie: All of our lift contracts are with resorts directly, and we also have lodging contracts in place with resorts that manage their own lodging. Lift sales gives resorts full price control, of course, and we list all of our contracted properties first, so resorts can enjoy premium placement.

For those resorts we do have contracts with, there is a lot of variation in the level of interaction. Some resorts email us powder alerts and update us on sales and specials, which is of course the ideal. We are set to launch a marketing campaign that will blast specials across several ski and travel sites and their email lists, so we are actively promoting our partners’ specials.

SlopeFillers: If a resort marketer is looking to partner with you, what can they expect as far as fees, support, and visibility?
Evvie: We don’t charge any fees; we prefer to receive net rates and apply our own commission, but also have some commission-based contracts. We support several different Central Reservation Systems and also have our own Extranet that resorts can plug rates and contracts into (we are happy to fill these in for resorts, as well). Our extranet system was built internally and is improved daily, allowing us to meet unique contractual needs and handle atypical pricing systems from resorts.

We have a team of 20+ developers ready to provide technical support, and our staff goes above and beyond to cooperate with resort requests, respond to questions, and solve and issues. In terms of visibility, SnowTrax has a strong marketing budget to be allocated toward PPC, PR, and display advertising placements on prominent websites in the ski and travel industries. Our direct contract partners’ specials are actively promoted in email marketing campaigns, and on “deals” sites across the web on sites including StudentUniverse, ShermansTravel, CheapFlights, and more.

SlopeFillers: Who should a resort contact if they are interested in partnering?
Evvie: Contact Matt Zito: mdz at mattzito dot com.



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