Originally published Aug 2013
This week and next I’m resurfacing five of the best posts to ever grace SlopeFillers’ pages. At the time I wanted perspectives and ideas on growing skiing, so I found an industry data guy, a pro skier, a former resort marketing rockstar, and a former industry association leader to answer 3-4 questions and paint a picture of what it will take to get skiing to grow.
Today is Mary Jo Tarallo. Mary Jo is the Executive Director of Learn to Ski and Snowboard month as well as the Bring a Friend initiative. A late addition to the “grow skiing week” lineup, Mary Jo has some of the best perspectives on what works and what doesn’t in terms of introducing people to skiing and getting them to come back over and over again.
Here’s what she had to say.
Gregg: What do you think is the biggest challenge for the ski industry in the next 10 years?
Mary Jo: The industry faces several challenges. First, it needs to better understand the casual skier or snowboarder which is the bulk of the market place. Only about 3 – 4 percent of the U. S. population participates. That means 96 – 97 percent do not. Second, industry research finds that the majority of newcomers are introduced to skiing and snowboarding by a friend or family member who already participates. The industry could find creative ways to reward current participants for bringing newcomers who want to learn. The important thing is for those newcomers to learn from trained professionals.
The changing demographics meaning a shrinking Caucasian population and an increasing Hispanic and Asian-American population are problematic. The current ski/snowboard population is overwhelmingly Caucasian. Fighting market share battles is counter productive. Creating new skiers and snowboarders IS productive.
Gregg: What do you think is the biggest opportunity for the ski industry in the next 10 years?
Mary Jo: Women make 80% of the buying decisions in a family – regardless of their background. If mom is convinced that skiing and snowboarding are good investments for her family then, chances are, the family will start skiing or snowboarding. The industry could do a better job of catering to this demographic and think through what steps can be taken to capture this lucrative market. When and where mom goes, the family follows.
Gregg: What will need to happen for skiing to gain momentum and start growing significantly?
Mary Jo: Collaboration among industry constituents is key. The industry is simply too small for collaboration NOT to happen. Everyone does not have to agree with everyone else but resorts, retailers, reps and suppliers can easily find ways, if they want to, to help each other. That collective effort will reap benefits. Each component plays an important role influencing newcomers. This may seem a bit naive but it is true. Smaller and local venues are excellent venues for those starting to ski or snowboard. Feeder areas are the entry to those on the path to learning. Most newcomers start out locally and then “graduate” to larger venues with additional amenities.
Gregg: What can marketers do now to start getting that ball rolling?
Mary Jo: The industry started a program called Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month and, more recently, Bring a Friend. These grassroots programs are intended to help marketers attract newcomers by providing a framework and template that can be adapted to any venue’s marketing plans. The goal is to motivate children and adults to learn how to ski or snowboard by taking lessons from professional instructors. This is one option that has been adapted by resorts and retailers in 34 states.
If this approach doesn’t appeal then marketers should define their goals and objectives, develop a strong plan based on budget with an eye toward nurturing their greatest asset – the current customer – to gain newcomers.
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