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Resources, Data-Driven Marketing, & the Assembly – Ralf Garrison Interview

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A couple months ago, you may have noticed a link at the bottom of many of my posts to a short survey about your favorite resort marketing conferences.  Aside from interesting sessions, I love the chance to rub shoulders with other marketers at these events.  Like a rock tumbler for tactics, it seems putting ideas in front of a group smooths out and polishes new or important marketing ideas. So when I hear about new or slightly unknown conferences, I’m going to try to explore a bit and see what’s up.

When I heard about The Assembly, a one-day conference in Denver focused on data-driven decisions, I jumped at the chance to glean a few tidbits about the event and it’s founder, Ralf Garrison.

Gregg: Ralf, your name is probably well known to many SlopeFillers readers, but for the rest, how about a quick bio of your involvement in the industry?
Ralf: I landed in the ‘Butte in the 70’s with a winter in the mountains as a ski bum as my post college gap, before engaging in the “ real world..”   Part way into the season, I tweaked my knee and missed a serious powder day,  so was working when the new owners came by and mistook my attendance for diligence and hired me full time as Comptroller (think “fog a mirror”, aka “get a job” back then).

Dumb luck and good timing had dropped me into a ski area,  growing through adolescence  toward maturity at an inclusive resort.  So, I got in on the ground floor with real estate, property management,  creation of an air program,  central reservations, and some of the early destination marketing efforts as ski areas morphed into year round resorts.

Now, I am probably best known for my involvement in the Mountain Travel Symposium, Central Reservations Association and MTRiP, the Mountain Travel Research Program, which is where I am spending my time, having recently sold the Symposium.

Gregg: So, both looking back on your experience with mountain travel and looking forward to the future as well, what’s a big problem resort marketers face?
Ralf: Ya,  well, where to start.. Lots of problems are also lots of opportunities. My current focus is on helping marketeers of tourism dependent business get “what they ought to know“ to be successful.  The Marketplace is morphing at an astonishing rate, the old rules of consumer engagement clearly don’t apply anymore and there is just not enough good actionable and timely information from which data-driven decision making can occur. If you can’t support your decisions and prove the return on your expenditure, you can’t justify your existence and fare left to fate; not the desired state, for sure.

Gregg: From your point of view, why is the issue of data-driven decision making so hard to solve compared to other resort operations?
Ralf: Marketing and its related research is less tangible than lifts, snow cats and snow making, so it gets cut if not justified, especially in tough economic times.  Technology is creating mountains of data but actionable, timely information is even harder to find and apply; not much is really forward looking and actionable.  But it’s almost a ‘fool’s errand, to expect to grow business in a tough market with fewer resources.

Gregg: What can marketers realistically do about it?
Ralf: Where there are problems, there are always opportunities, and it’s helpful to remember that these tough economic headwinds blow against the competition too.   Our efforts with MTRiP are based on collective initiatives that are more economical than other alternatives and are even more important when money is tight and every dollar must be productive.. By working together, we should all get the most bang for the buck, and in this day and age of data-driven decision making, the cost of being uninformed is greater than the cost to become informed.

Gregg: This seems to be a theme of The ASSEMBLY as well, how about a few details on that event and what it does for resort marketers?
Ralf: The (inaugural) ASSEMBLY is a one day event, intended to gather all the information and resources related to the mountain travel industry in one place; a one day intensive jump start into what you ought to know, to plan your plan for next year.  It’s scheduled for Feb 1, to be as early as possible in the seasonal cycle, in conjunction with the SIA Snow Show in Denver.

What started as an MTRiP subscriber-only event  has quickly morphed to something much bigger, an “assembly”  of all available data, provided in conjunction with around forty Affiliated Partners, ( representing virtually all major mountain travel resorts, associations and enabling vendors,  at one time.

*A quick aside before I move on to Ralf’s next response. The Assembly is invite-only. I didn’t realize this until later, but Ryan Solutions became an affiliate partner and has a handful of invites. If you’d like to use one of those invites, let me know and I’ll get you the details.

Gregg: What’s the basic schedule like for the day?
Ralf: So, here’s the “ skinny..” about how it will come down:
The Agenda has three sequential segments, all focused on “ what you ought to know..” to plan-your-plan for next year…

  1. Mid–Winter Market Update/ Seasonal Assessment
  2. Long Look: 2013/14: Situation Forthcoming:  Econometrics and Travel Trends
  3. Destination Summer – Coming of Age

Full descriptions of those sessions are on the website:

Also included is a one-day badge to the SIA Snow Show (this is the primary equipment-apparel buying show for winter sports industry in North America, and participants are dead-serious about their primary objectives, so please conduct yourselves in “look-and-listen only” mode).

Gregg: For some, this may be a tough to make travel plans at this point.  Are the options for those who can’t make it?
Ralf: If you have $ 100 and can get to Denver for a day,  you really oughta be there. However, some of the same content will trickle out in a few other venues.

For example, MTRiP subscribers will get a synopsis and some content in the MTRIP Library, several weeks later.   Plus, we’ll be doing regional presentations in conjunction with NSAA at their regional shows, in Snowbird on Jan 23,  and Mt Snow on Feb 4.

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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