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What Inntopia’s Big News Means for Skiing, Lodging and, Most Importantly, Resort Marketers

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You’ll likely read a half dozen variations of the press release this week, but with their software at the bottom of many a resort marketing funnel, I reached out to Trevor Crist (Inntopia’s CEO) to get his thoughts on what it means to you and your efforts.

Gregg: First, Trevor, a big congratulations. For those who haven’t heard, what is the news?
Trevor: Thanks! We’ve announced that Northstar Travel Media has become the majority shareholder in Inntopia, and that Intrawest Resorts Holdings and Aspen Skiing Company also recently joined as equity partners in the company. I’m maintaining most of my equity stake as well. So, the shareholders in Inntopia are now Northstar, Aspen, Intrawest, and myself.

Gregg: Let’s dig into what this means for resort marketers. When I first heard the news I was a little surprised to see Intrawest and Aspen on the list. You mentioned that safeguards are in place to prevent access to competitive insight, but what’s the motivation for resorts to get involved in the actual software rather than just be users?
Trevor: Their motivations are pretty simple. They will rely heavily on Inntopia to process a substantial, and growing, portion of their overall sales. They obviously are believers in the product and the company, but frankly both had concerns about our ability to scale the organization as quickly and effectively as needed to meet their demands, and the demands of a growing number of users, and soon to be users. Both arrived at a similar conclusion independently – that we have a solid product and solid team but that more resources would be needed to take the company to the next level. And, those concerns were legitimate – Inntopia was started with friends and family money, and it’s been primarily self-funded since. We were clearly in need of some growth capital to help us keep up with the incredible demand we have been experiencing.

And since Aspen and Intrawest are relying on our software to run so much of their businesses, it also makes sense that they would want deeper insight into where we are going with the product, and with the business, and an opportunity to provide input. In fact, Intrawest is transitioning all of its resorts over to Inntopia from internally developed and owned platforms, so this a significant technology shift and investment for the company.

Lastly, they do view this as a financial investment as well– They see our trajectory and they wanted to participate.

Gregg: In terms of Inntopia’s motivation, aside from capital, what does having resort players on the team do for you as a CEO and your products?
Trevor: Their partnership really lends perspective. We’ve always been a customer-centric organization. Our product road map is a direct result of asking our customers what they want and we use that information to guide us. And because we have a transaction-based business model, when our customers are successful, we are successful. I think having Aspen and Intrawest invested in our success supports this approach even further– It creates a healthy ecosystem for all of us.

It’s also important to note that Intrawest and Aspen are not just any resort players. They are two of the best known brands worldwide in the ski industry, and that didn’t happen by chance. They are exemplary companies, run by people I respect and admire. I’m particularly thrilled to have Ian Arthur (Intrawest CMO) and Matt Jones (Aspen CFO) joining our board of directors. It’s the people behind those brands that make this an exciting partnership.

Gregg: On that note, is there any worry about other clients feeling your efforts are biased toward the owner-resorts’ needs?
Trevor: One of the dynamics we’ve seen in the ski industry is a desire for everyone to work together to grow the industry, rather than to just fight over market share. I think that’s always been the case to some degree, but there seems to be an even greater degree of collaboration recently. Look no further than the proliferation of multi-resort pass products to get a sense for how resorts are finding innovative ways to work together these days. Will Aspen and Intrawest help shape our product roadmap? Absolutely, but they, and many other resorts, have been doing that already.

What we will not be doing is building ‘one off’ solutions for them (or anybody else). Their great ideas will get incorporated into the platform, and will be part of the product set that others get to use as well. We’ve done this already with our new Responsive Commerce system. Intrawest just launched three of their resorts on that new product and we are now rolling it out across our user base. Practically speaking, Intrawest was integral in helping us scope out and build that new product, and now all of our users are beneficiaries.

It goes even further than that, too. The new shareholders are very interested in seeing Inntopia succeed, to the point where they are eager to share knowledge and best practices with other users, with an overall goal of helping all resorts on the platform sell more efficiently and grow their businesses. Ian Arthur’s presentation at last month’s Destination Summit was a taste of that, and I know a lot of Intrawest’s competitors came out of that session excited by Ian’s openness, and his ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ message. That spirit of collaboration and partnership is baked into Inntopia’s DNA, and the new partners embrace that philosophy.

Gregg: I think many people reading this will instantly be reminded of Vail buying a majority stake in RTP back in the day. Anything you want to say to address those who feel that wasn’t the best move?
Trevor: I’d agree that having a single customer as majority owner isn’t a good idea, as it’s hard to avoid the inevitable conflicts of interest that can arise. Aspen and Intrawest don’t have a majority stake in Inntopia though, so they don’t control the company. Also, keep in mind that RTP was initially spun out of Vail, so there was always a strong Vail influence there. Intrawest, Aspen and Northstar all welcomed the participation of the other companies in this deal, and all are invested in Inntopia’s culture of openness and collaboration. There is an inherent balance of power element to the deal that I think reinforces the need to work together to find solutions that work for everyone, rather than solutions tailored to a single entity.

Gregg: Most importantly, what does this mean for Inntopia and your products? Does this change the short or long term roadmaps for what you’re building?
Trevor: In the short term there aren’t any changes to the roadmap. In the medium to long term, it means more resources to focus on emerging trends and technologies, with mobile being a key focus. This deal also gives us the resources to start making ‘build vs buy’ decisions about product line extensions and geographical expansion. While Northstar is fully committed to the ski industry (as their recent acquisition of Mountain Travel Symposium should make clear), they also have deep connections in the travel industry at large. With their help, we expect to accelerate our move into additional vertical and geographical markets. We believe that other markets can learn a lot from the ski industry. And, the ski industry has a chance to learn from other markets as well.

Gregg: I’m giving you the last word. Reading this will be many a resort marketer who is generating traffic that can only convert through Inntopia software. What would you say to them about Inntopia’s past, today’s news, and the future?
Trevor: If your resort isn’t using Inntopia yet, don’t miss out on the opportunities that our best of breed platform offers. If you’re already an Inntopia partner, things are going to get even better ahead!

About Gregg & SlopeFillers
I've had more first-time visitors lately, so adding a quick "about" section. I started SlopeFillers in 2010 with the simple goal of sharing great resort marketing strategies. Today I run marketing for resort ecommerce and CRM provider Inntopia, my home mountain is the lovely Nordic Valley, and my favorite marketing campaign remains the Ski Utah TV show that sold me on skiing as a kid in the 90s.

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