Saturday, June 8, 2013

Mountain Travel Forum 2013: Session IV

General Session IV
Thursday, April 11th 8:30AM - 10:15AM
The Crystal Ball

  • Online travel pioneer Erik Blachford has seen it all. The "next big thing" comes to him every day as a venture partner at Technology Crossover Ventures. This founding team member and second CEO of Expedia played key roles in developing the world’s largest travel agency. He helped luxury adventure travel company Butterfield and Robinson rethink their strategies as its CEO. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s an avid skier.
"Eric Blachford, a travel veteran and outside expert turned technology investor (Technology Crossover Ventures), urged resorts to enlist customers in marketing. For this, he noted the value of pictures. With changes in photo and video technology and the explosion of photo-sharing sites, resorts can tell stories via photos to grow their businesses. Or, more precisely, let their guests tell stories via pictures.
He cited “Betabrand” apparel, which enlists buyers to take pictures of their new togs, then puts those onto customized homepages of the Betabrand website. That is, customers buy, then take pictures of themselves sporting their Betabrand gear, which then take center stage on a Betabrand home page—which they are then encouraged to share with friends.
The key point is that every customer can have his or her own Betabrand home page. That gets buyers invested in the brand, and gives friends a closer connection to the brand as well. More than 7,000 people have thus become evangelists for Betabrand. That’s one way to get your market to do your marketing for you.
This is “growth hacking:” convincing good customers to Tweet and otherwise spread the word about you. It works well for lots of online businesses, such as Dropbox, which gives free space to users who bring in new subscribers, and Surveymonkey, a free service that nonetheless generates $845 million in sales, via upgraded data analysis). Both rely on upselling of premium services and features. He and others suggested resorts should do similar: offer free skiing and riding for an hour, say, or for a portion of the mountain, and then upsell for extended/greater use, etc.
He also envisioned a use for Google Glass: give out the glasses to influencers—a freemium—so long as they share videos with friends.
Ian Arthur of Intrawest said that such “gamification” is a big cultural trend and getting bigger, and that the mechanics are readily available. Just about any resort can get into the act.
When it comes to making the sale, resorts should both create their own digital programs and work with partners, Blachford said: “You don’t get to control how people shop. People want to shop how they want to shop.” Some will come straight to a resort; others will use other, trusted sites, from Trip Advisor to Expedia. What matters is that they find their way to you.
A corollary to this idea is that a resort’s online shopping experience has to be as good as the online leaders, such as Expedia or Amazon. That’s what customers are used to. If you don’t make shopping easy, people will shop somewhere else.
When it comes to easy, Blachford thinks big. In praising the Mountain Collective for its ease of purchase online (with back end support provided by Liftopia), he suggested that resorts go even further: create a pre-paid pass that's good for any ski area. The industry could even forge its own currency, similar to frequent-flier miles.
Blachford suggested resorts offer a “first ever” free ski pass bundled with “goodies” such as free ski and boot rentals. Asked how such a pass could be tracked effectively, he said, “it doesn’t matter.” Just get people hooked, he said, they will spend plenty in both the short and long run
"(SAM April, 2013).

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