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Survey Results: The state of ski resort marketing and COVID-19.

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Let’s be real. This sucks.

During a family video chat on Sunday, we went around the horn. My older sister; just got a promotion. My younger sister; business is booming. My brother; just got a raise. Then it was my turn.

Well, every resort in the country closed in a 48 hour span, many of my friends are all getting laid off, and nobody knows when it will get better.

It’s been a tough, surreal week and I wanted to see how you’re doing. So I put together a quick survey on Friday. Here are the results.

Q: Is your resort currently closed due to the virus?
Wanted to just see what the landscape looked like for the folks filling out the survey.

Of 70 responses, only two said they were open. Pretty clear picture about where things stand with this set of insights.

Q: As of TODAY, what changes, if any, have been made to marketing staff in response? (select all that apply)
Next, I wanted to see what had already happened to resort marketing teams (note: of the other ~10 “other” responses, two mentioned that their entire team had been laid off).

The fact more than 1/3 have already reduced their staff and just under 1/3 have already reduced hours? Man, sobering.

Q: Over the next 90 DAYS, what ADDITIONAL changes, if any, do you expect to be made to marketing staff in response? (select all that apply)
We’re only a week into this, so I next wanted to see what other changes were looming on the horizon (note: almost all the “other” responses simply said it was all up in the air at this point).

In this case, 43% of respondents (29 out of 68) said they expect (more) layoffs or (another) decrease in hours.

Q: How concerned about your CAREER / PERSONAL / FAMILY life are you given the current situation?
Next was more of the personal, human element in all this.

Overall 93% of respondents were “somewhat”, “very”, or “extremely concerned”. Interestingly, the responses from the two marketers whose resorts were still open were “somewhat concerned” and “extremely concerned.” In other words, yes, a two people in this sample aren’t worried, but it’s not as simple as their resort still making money.

Q: How concerned about the RESORT’s PERFORMANCE / FINANCIAL situation are you given the current situation?
But clearly livelihoods are tied to the resort, so I just wanted to take the pulse of how the resort’s situation looked from their perspective.

In this case, marketers were less concerned about the resort than they were about themselves. This is an important dynamic, I think, that it’s easier to see a business making it through tough times than it is to see ourselves making it through. And important nuance for leaders to consider.

Q: Where is your OVERALL MARKETING strategy and outreach at the moment?
Next, I wanted to see where current marketing strategy stood.

This is really interesting, especially compared to the next chart. Because, overall, nobody is pushing out a lot of promotional messages and 1/4 aren’t pushing out any marketing at all.

Q: Where is your SEASON PASS strategy and outreach at the moment?
But season passes are a huge question for many of you, so I wanted to drill down on just that aspect of marketing strategy.

In this case, while 27% had pushed pause on all marketing, double that – 56% – had pushed pause on all season pass marketing. Which means, some resorts have found other things to promote even if they don’t feel comfortable selling season passes. But, even more interestingly, a couple people are actually selling season passes like they normally would even if the rest of their marketing isn’t business as usual.

Q: Are you currently selling SEASON PASSES?
Then, I wanted to just see how many people actually had passes on sale at all right now.

This was really interesting. While only 16% are promoting season passes, 60% are selling them. Which I think is a perfect anecdote for our dilemma as marketers: our products are still for sale, but we feel uncomfortable promoting them to our audiences right now.

Q: What impact has the virus had on your MARKETING BUDGET and SPEND?
For my last multiple choice question, I wanted to see what immediate impacts this had on marketing spend.

More than half of you have pushed pause on everything. Nearly 1/3 have pushed pause on a lot. About 7% said business as usual.

Q: Any thoughts, feelings, concerns, advice, other you’d like to toss out there?
Finally, I just gave folks a chance to share a glimpse of where they were at without the restrictions of a checkbox. While there were a handful folks that feel next season is in jeopardy and a couple who think this is a huge overreaction, here are a few I thought were the most insightful and level-headed.

I don’t think any of us will know the impact for a month (and potentially not till next winter). The reality is while we are all ski mountains, each one of us has a business model that is different so it is not going to be a true apples to apples situation for folks.

Trial by fire, unprecedented time that doesn’t have one solution or answer of how to handle this in our industry. We’re all in this together at least.

I don’t think anyone knows the right way to go, but I think sharing with one another about lessons learned is the best thing we can all do right now.

Better this happening now than in October. Hope it doesn’t last through the summer.

And then a few specific insights from resorts.

The next very important decision will be “what to do with our early bird season pass campaign” which was to expire on May 31. Two options look to be on the table – defer the entire campaign to the fall or forge forward with our early bird campaign but put everyone on a payment plan (25% down as an example). Hell, we might have to do both.

These are uncharted waters and navigating them has proven to be an ever-evolving process. Decisions made one day can be totally negated the next day. While the marketing staff is my primary concern, the health and well-being of everyone at the resort has to be prioritized. For now, we are pausing all promotional marketing and refocusing efforts on what can be done to help the community as a whole.

Talk about wild times. Our full time team of 6 is about to see severely reduced hours. As a manager I will be getting 16-24 hours for the foreseeable future and will supplement with unemployment as all area businesses have also cut staff. We’ve pushed our season pass pricing deadline and I imagine that will continue. Biggest question we are receiving is if season pass holders will receive any type of discount. Guidance and communication is at an all time low. Full time year round hourly positions at sister resorts have been laid off till September. Summer operations in the air so unable to market that.

Just getting our head above all the cancellations and refunds. A lot of teams let go this week, everyone else next week, we’re going into hibernation, some of us just for a few weeks, others for possibly months.

We paused season pass sales with direction from cooperate for several days when resorts starting shutting down. We have now resumed social and ad placement for our season pass early sale. I have mixed feelings about it. From a resort stance I can see how we need the cash flow from selling passes and keeping our deadline. From a personal standpoint I do feel a little bad pushing it, knowing that so many people are out of work and no insight into when things will start improving. I think when it gets close to the end date for the spring sale we will end up extending the deal. But not my call. For now our resort still has golf operations and basically have stopped everything else. Hopefully they keep paying the marketing team we all know that we’ll have to work even harder when things start opening back up.

I think now is a good time to spread positive notes on social media. I’ve been keeping an eye on Aspen Snowmass and A-Basin social medias and trying to take some cues from them on post ideas. The one post I’ve made since we closed that isn’t about COVID19 was pretty successful.

Four Words
I think the best summary was this simple, four-word response: “It’s bigger than skiing.”

And therein lies the dilemma. It is bigger than skiing, but selling skiing is our job. Sit on your hands too long and there won’t be a chair left for you to sit on.

It’s a delicate balance, but I’ve been extremely impressed with what I’ve seen thus far and I don’t see that changing.

Thoughts? Ideas? Feedback? Comments are old-school, click here to grab a slot on Gregg's calendar and let's chat.

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