In 2012 Adam Hawes left Northstar for a position at HTC. With more talent than you could shake a stick at and a fresh outside-looking-in perspective on resort marketing, I reached out shortly after he left to get his take on where this industry is and where we are going.
Gregg: Quickly talk a little bit about who you are, your background in the industry with Northstar, TWsnow, DC, etc.
Adam: My name is Adam Hawes, and I manage Global Content, Communities and Social Marketing for HTC in Seattle, WA. I’m also currently on an airplane.
Briefly, I first began working in the snow industry at the chipper age of thirteen, tuning skis and teaching kids to ride at Pats Peak in Henniker, NH. 14 wonderful, life-altering industry years later, and that path has taken me to every corner of the ski/snow/action sports world, including owning and publishing indie media; an editor of TransWorld SNOWboarding magazine and TWSnow.com; Marketing Manager of DC Shoes; and most recently, Online Marketing Manager and Social Media for the beautiful Northstar California Resort in Lake Tahoe, CA.
Yet, after all of this, I still suck at handplants.
Gregg: Social media, community, content, web are all often lumped together and often feels a little vague …what specifically is it that you feel you’re best at?
Adam: You’re right, and it’s an unfortunate misinterpretation of new media, this all-too-often belief that it should all live under one roof. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Personally, I’m most passionate about the environmental psychological/ sociological elements of social media, particularly in regards to positive community building. We have the opportunity to experiment, succeed, break new ground and fail on a daily basis within these mediums; allowing for and providing the positive environments needed to help evolve users into guests, guests into fans, fans into passholders, passholders into legacies is a powerful, endlessly exciting avenue to focus on and create for.
Don’t get me wrong; content, direction, marketing, writing, etc. are all very important to the overall health our your social outlets. Yet, none can exist or prosper without the original groundwork laid by the site author, opening up and curating the space needed to provide the most positive, supportive, responsive and rewarding experience possible.
Gregg: Looking back at the ski industry, what does the industry tend to do well in that regard?
Adam: Generally speaking, the action sports industry has stayed well ahead of the game in terms of its early adoption towards audience-based content development and distribution. Enthusiasts living their passions, creating measures and outlets tailored for the next wave of enthusiasts (this is the storybook ideal, at least) will always be able to best create the avenue for interaction within that audience. The main “product” is authenticity, and that’s one of the last remaining products that can actually still sell to the target generation.
Gregg: So, what do you think the industry still struggles with?
Adam: Like so many industries today, the ski resort industry suffers greatly from a lack of youthful ideas in power positions. Many, many of the world’s ski/snow resorts (not excluding the biggest and leading areas, by any means) are still holding board meetings to discuss how best to purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars in web impressions, for example—while their $8/hr photographer is out there in the cold, capturing 100% of the content that their guests and potential visitors actually want.
Worse, they continue to hire lowest-cost or even intern workers (this kills me, personally…) to run, manage and community direct their social media accounts and audiences. In this new climate, that person should be among the highest-paid, most involved, powerful and respected positions at the resort, yet are rarely given a say in policy discussion or capital projects.
This is a huge, rather embarrassing miss for the industry, as these individuals are now the only direct, home-hitting contact between visitor, guest, potential vacationer and Resort. They alone are the direct portal to millions of dollars in revenue stream, yet are treated (and sadly, at times disrespected) by the industry higher-ups as basic, disposal, hourly and seasonal employment.
This is not to say that all Resorts have fallen short here. The social/content investment of Aspen/Snowmass for example, and the work done by Dave Amirault in particular, is cutting edge for the industry. But the overall, widespread failure of the resort industry to universally understand that websites are dead and social outlets and content are the new direct PR and Marketing arms of their business is stunning to me.
Gregg: On the bright side, do you see any big opportunities for the industry?
Adam: Positions within the ski, snow and resort industries are, above all, desired. This can’t be understated, for it invites a never-ending stream of passionate applicants and qualified (often, over-qualified) resumes flooding into every resort office in North America.
Skiers and snowboarders live and love to ski and snowboard—how better to do so, than work in the industry? Many will relocate for free, and even take pay cuts for the chance to live out their dream. Myself, I accepted a near 25% drop in salary when I joined Northstar, yet never thought twice about the decline. The powder days, the lifestyle, the friends, the healthy living and more, as we all know, are worth every single penny.
The challenge then, is how to keep these passionate folks at your resort, and within the industry. Skiing and snowboarding have such an incredible turn-over rate (jumping job to job is much more accepted here than in other, more “normal” industries, for example), that—coupled with a notorious unwillingness to promote workers, give raises, etc.—it’s more difficult than ever for resorts to retain their talent. And other industries know this: poaching workers and looking towards the resort industry for potential hires is commonplace. For one, underpaid hardworkers abound in skiing. Yet above all else, the larger business world wants to attract, sell to and target the 18-26 (18-35, even) marketplace. How better to do so than speaking through the credible, authentic, knowledgeable and passionate members of the youth market itself?
Gregg: If you could say one thing to every resort marketer, what would it be?
Adam: I’m going to catch some flack for this, but… it really needs to be said:
If you work in the ski/snow industry, yet haven’t gone skiing or riding this week, do us all a favor and resign. Today.
We need true, in-their-blood skiers and snowboarders in charge of our world, making decisions and speaking for us—not suits.
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