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Interviews
Baby Boomers & The Death of Print: Eric Wagnon Interview

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GREGG
BLANCHARD
       

Since starting SlopeFillers, I’ve noticed that among the discussion on resort marketing are folks that aren’t resort marketers. Heavily involved in the industry, they have incredibly insightful perspectives on trends and changes. I’m going to be collecting more and more of these “perspectives”, and we’ll kick things off with the one, the only, Eric Wagnon:


SlopeFillers:Eric, give me a little background into your history and involvement with the ski scene?
Eric: I went to journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill and have worked primarily on the television side for almost 20 years. As an avid recreational skier for more than 30 years, I first combined my professional career with the ski industry about eight years ago when I was working for the ABC affiliate in Chicago. I was producing a weekly lifestyle and entertainment show that periodically did travel episodes. Being that Colorado is a major destination for Chicago travelers, we did a few shows featuring Colorado resorts such as Aspen/Snowmass, Copper Mountain and Winter Park.

A little more than two years ago, I started writing online about recreational skiing as the “National Skiing Examiner” for Examiner.com. That exposure led to other opportunities with ski-related websites such as TheSkiChannel.com, Snowlist.com, and buzz.snow.com. I’ve also done a little work for Ski Canada magazine in the print world.

SlopeFillers:So, over those 30 years of skiing and 20 years of professional perspective what has been the biggest change in the ski resort marketing landscape that you’ve witnessed?
Eric: I would say the changes in ski resort marketing reflect the changes in the resorts themselves. For example, snowboarding and terrain parks really didn’t exist 30 years ago, so any marketing in those areas is obviously completely new. As someone on the receiving end of “pitches” from resorts to do stories, I would also say that more and more resorts like to tout their non-skiing offerings that have expanded in recent decades. For example, one “ski” travel show I did included tubing, winter fly-fishing, snowmobiling, sleigh rides and dog sledding. As you might guess, this is particularly true for marketing departments dealing with general mainstream media outlets such as Chicago’s ABC station where I worked.

In reaching out to the dedicated skiing population, it seems resorts have increased their emphasis on a more natural– or even more “extreme”– skiing experience in the last decade or so. The resorts try to offer “backcountry light,” meaning natural terrain, but avy-controlled. I’m not sure if it’s true, but the logic I’ve heard is that shaped skis have helped put this more challenging terrain within reach of a larger percentage of the skiing population. The cat-accessed terrain at Keystone and Copper, Vail’s Blue Sky Basin, the expansion at Telluride, Highland Bowl at Aspen Highlands, Stone Creek Chutes at Beaver Creek, and Vasquez Cirque at Winter Park would all be examples of this trend. If you’ll notice, all these new examples are in Colorado. I think the more rugged spirit of hike-to-terrain and such has long been instilled in other Western locales such as Alta, Jackson and Squaw. Interestingly enough, Park City in Utah is going the other way by marketing their groomed “Signature” black runs.

SlopeFillers:Great points, Eric. What about the future of resort marketing? Do you see these trends continuing or is there some “next big thing” on the horizon?
Eric: My speculation is that the “next big thing” in resort marketing will be related to the demographic reality that the first baby boomers are just now entering retirement age. Marketing to this group with time and money to spend will likely continue an emphasis on the total winter resort experience of sleigh rides, dining, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if you start to see lodging packages that allow retirees to spend an entire ski season at the resort (kind of a “ski-bum year” at the age of 65 instead of right out of college, albeit likely much more luxurious in nature). You may also see marketing to multi-generational families– grandparents, parents, kids all vacationing together. Those situations are profitable for resorts in all the ancillary revenue sources such as lessons, rentals, and dining.

SlopeFillers:One final question. If reaching baby boomers is the next big step, what do see as the next resort marketing trend to fade away?
Eric: In terms of delivering marketing messages, print media will continue to fade away. I’ve talked personally with Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz about their shift away from magazine advertising into an emphasis on social media. Marketing through social media is here to stay, but I think certain social-media avenues will fade away. Remember MySpace. The problem with social-media marketing as it now stands is that it’s very difficult to come up with ROI in dollars and not just “Likes” or “Followers.” Leading a publicly traded company, Katz may be in a honeymoon period with his social-media vision, but eventually shareholders are going to demand real return data in dollars. Whoever can design a social-media interaction platform that is appealing to consumers and also provides companies with real ROI data will be a very rich person. Perhaps Facebook can morph into something that provides those benefits or it’ll be an entirely new concept. Whatever that turns out to be could supplant today’s hot social-media models such as Twitter.


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