By Claire Humber
As published in Ski Area Management (SAM, November, 2012)
CHALLENGE 4: DEMOGRAPHICS
"We must consider population dynamics in the queries we are making about the future".
There have been many ongoing discussions about the lingering effects of the Boomer’s exit from the marketplace and the winter resort industry, and for good reason. Their presence has dominated the marketplace for the past 20 years, and their absence will be felt. As noted in the 2011/12 NSAA National Demographic Study, "the boomers will increasingly need to be replaced with new participants to ensure the long-term health and future growth of the ski industry".
The winter resort industry will also continue to be challenged by the national geographic shift in the population base to the south and the west, resulting in the resorts of the northeast and Midwest having to draw visitors from farther away.
Where will the snowsports enthusiasts of tomorrow come from?
OPPORTUNITY: DIVERSIFICATION OF THE SKIER DEMOGRAPHIC
The next generation. Understanding Gen X’s and the Millennials’ product demands remains critical. Their differing perceptions of loyalty and brand commitment pose a challenge for resorts. On the other hand, continuing to promote the family experience may be a way to gain traction with this group: "Gen X and Millennials are pushing back marriage and parenthood to their mid to late 30s, resulting in more affluent parents of young children. This is exciting from a resort development standpoint, because developers can now focus on higher-end, creative children’s programming and facilities", says one industry insider.
Ethnic diversification. "The ski business has failed to recognize the changing ethnic make-up of our country", claimed another survey participant. The need to penetrate ethnic segments that have lower incidents of snow/ski participation has been a topic of conversation within the industry for several years. How can you make it easier for minorities to visit your resort? Strategies should include education, community outreach, as well as modification of hiring practices.
International visitation. "The interest in and opportunities for our customers to go abroad and foreign nationals to come here to participate in winter recreation constitute both threat and opportunity". While the ease of international travel threatens to dilute our sliding population as North American skiers head overseas, the world of internet marketing allows for North American resorts to attract international guests to come and play in our mountains. Can U.S. resorts compete and attract the discerning European skier? To do so will require complete and sophisticated offerings in terms of shopping, culture, dining, etc., to create a cultural and recreational vacation.
Families. From a recreation/leisure standpoint the family unit is stronger than it ever has been: the family is playing together, and there is no activity better than skiing or snowboarding to foster family interaction. This is a positive trend for the industry, especially as facilities offer more year-round activities for the family to engage in. At a recent session at IAAPA (the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions), panelists were noting the similarities between the ski industry and the waterpark industry. Both appeal to the multi-generational complexities of the family, and both continue to attract and maintain visitation in times of recession. Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from our waterpark friends?
Women. A volume of marketing research has identified the key role that women play as family decision-makers. While moms are not making all the decisions, more often than not they are doing the research and presenting the “finalists” for evaluation. Think about this as you craft your marketing messages