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The online generation is younger than you think. And this group is your future.

According to 2009 Nielsen Reports, time spent online by children increased 63 percent in the last five years. The growth rate outpaces the overall Internet population. As a result, kids ages 2 to 11 comprise 9.5 percent of the active online universe.

For many resort websites, however, content and activities for kids younger than 14 are a low priority. Since kids don't shop online, many ROI-driven executives ignore them. I was surprised when a marketing director at a family ski area told me, "children aren't a part of our marketing model."

Does that make sense? Don't forgo meaningful interaction with your youngest and potentially lifetime customers. You are giving the competition a chance to capture the hearts and minds of your future. Major league sports organizations make direct communication with children a priority-www.NFL rush.com is an entire website for kids, with links and custom content from all 32 pro football teams.

Better yet, check out Disney's homepage. It promotes films, television, merchandise, destination vacations, and a vast array of Disney products and services. Front-page buttons for kids serve as portals to games, activities and content. It's part of a methodical mission to develop a lifelong bond with Disney customers, regardless of their chronological age and their ability to make purchases. Mickey Mouse knows that all kids grow up, get credit cards, and have more kids.

In a tough economy, marketing must focus first on those who make purchasing decisions. Of all means to reach children, though, the Internet offers the best access at the least cost.

How kid-friendly is your website? Look at your homepage and ask, "If I was nine years old, where would I click?" Kids' content should be instantly obvious, not an Easter egg hunt.

Keep in mind that "mom content" is not for kids. No eight-year-old cares to see how loving and nurturing the instructors are. The words "children," "family," "safety" and "school" are total turnoffs. Games, bells, whistles and any sound resembling a burp or other bodily function is a plus. Cartoons and jokes rule. Photos of kids jumping, having fun, or crashing are cool. Snowplowing is not.

As for adult-centric priorities, consider that according to Nielsen's 2009 data, 26.3 percent of the online adult population has children age 11 or younger in the household-a seven percent increase from summer 2008. How can these adults introduce their kids to your website if there's nothing for the kids to look at? And remember, kid's content is actually one more way to reach parents.

The "Digital Generation" is just that-online. These kids have never known a time when the Internet didn't exist. For any resort's bottom line, now and in the future, ignoring your youngest customers doesn't make either sense or cents.
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