The panel was held at the National Ski Areas Association 2009 Convention and Trade Show in Marco Island, Florida (May 13-16). This high-powered CEO Summit gave attendees a fascinating look at some very different operations and how they deal with some very familiar subjects. The panelists discussed the hard times that have hit the ski industry this season, and though all agreed their customers are resilient (U.S. ski areas tallied 57.1 million visits for the 2008/09 season, making it the fifth best season on record), most suggested changes in customer behavior and resort operations that occurred this season as a result of a tough economic situation will likely persist for years to come.
The Lessons to be Learned from the 2008-09 Winter Season would be (sources: The Industry Report; Ski Area Management Magazine):
- "The loyalty we created in our industry is unparalleled. Our guests don't want to leave so we need to take advantage of that" (Michael Kaplan).
- "We’re more weather-driven than economy-driven. It was tough, but not as tough as a bad winter. We’d rather have a bad economy and good weather than a good economy and bad weather" (Tim Boyd).
- "Drive-to resorts performed better than average, and destinations were hurt" (Stephen Kircher). "The best thing we learned is we’re glad we’re close to the people. The farther a resort is from markets, the more challenging this winter was. Our resorts are closer to metropolitan areas, and we probably suffered a lot less impact than the destination guys" (Tim Boyd).
- "What we saw this year was (…) when the time came for the core skiers to prioritize how to spend time and money, skiing was right at the top of their list. Our resorts offer other services, though, and our company saw spending on that side go down. Our guests still love to come, but they’re not going to spend as much money, and we have to find ways to continue to grow our profit" (Rob Katz). "We saw greatly reduced spending, at the ski school and food and drink outlets. Instead of a $100 bottle of wine maybe a $12 dollar bottle. We don’t see that reversing course in the next 12-to-18 months" (Michael Kaplan).
- "The old Intrawest focus had been real estate for 20 years. That went into the toilet, flushed down the sewer and into some ocean, so that business opportunity is truly dead right now" (Bill Jensen). "The concept of real estate defining a resort is gone, probably for our lifetime" (Stephen Kircher).
- "These are times when people tend to panic, and that’s the worst time to be making decisions about pricing. If you get into a discounting situation, you’re going to create a discounting war, and all these people who are coming are going to come anyway and all you’re doing is driving down your yield" (Tim Boyd).
- "Intrawest went into a real cost-cutting exercise. We didn’t cut from the guests, we maintained our standards, basically stabilized the business and allowed it to survive by cutting fixed costs. We created a new foundation for the organization going forward. As business comes back we don’t have to add back in those costs" (Bill Jensen).