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March 2012

The Digital Landscape

Social media can be a giant question mark for many, so SAM and GenAura initiated a ski industry survey to get a few answers.

Written by Peter Duchessi and Rick Kahl | 0 comment

Facebook and Twitter have quickly joined resort websites as major means of digital communications.

But other, newer technologies and services, including resort apps, QR codes, and group sales services (e.g., Groupon), are less widespread, and may have potential for areas that adopt them.

These are the key conclusions of a survey conducted by GenAura and SAM Magazine last fall. The survey reached nearly 100 resorts and probed their use of digital communications for both promotional and marketing purposes. (See end of article for details.)

Resorts across North America are effectively using resort websites, social media networks (e.g., Facebook), and microblogging services (e.g., Twitter) to enable their promotional strategies. Ninety-eight percent of the ski resorts have a resort website, 95 percent use social media networks, and 82 percent employ microblogging services for promotional purposes.

But these resorts are less likely to use other new technologies to enable promotional strategies. Just 40 percent of all ski resorts report using group coupon services (e.g., Liftopia, Groupon), and less than a third use location-based services (e.g., Foursquare). Similarly, about one-third of the ski resorts report using QR codes, while just over 20 percent report using resort apps for promotional purposes. Yet all these technologies/services can help boost sales, as a few of the resorts using them have discovered.

And digital promotions succeed, for the most part. The survey showed that conventional promotions dispensed via websites, social networks, Twitter, and text messaging regularly achieve both short- and long-term sales gains. For websites and social networks, more than 80 percent of resorts report that digital promotions increase sales, most often long-term sales. Group coupon services, Twitter and virtual communities that resorts sponsor are also effective.

Other digital communications have the potential to increase sales, although these are not as widely used by resorts. Of resorts that have their own apps, nearly half report initial and prolonged sales increases for promotions that are offered through the apps. This is also true for both on-mountain and off-mountain QR code-based promotions.

Location-based services can also have a positive sales impact. Almost one-third of ski resorts using location-based services for check-ins report a sales increase, and 39 percent using location-based services for task completion report elevated sales.

The takeaway: resorts should explore the newer digital technologies and services, and not rest on the success of the older, more established digital vehicles (websites, Facebook, and Twitter). As consumers expand the range of their digital tools, resorts that follow suit can gain a greater share of the wallet.

The news here is similar to that for digital promotions: resorts have primarily used websites, social media, Twitter, online advertising, and distribution/sharing services (e.g., YouTube) to enable their communications strategies. For advertising purposes, virtually all resorts use a website and nearly all are present on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. And the majority use paid online advertising.

How effective are these for advertising? A whopping 95 percent of areas report that advertising on their websites drives both short- and long-term sales increases. Additionally, 84 percent of the resorts that advertise via social networks report initial and prolonged sales increases. Paid online advertising succeeds 75 percent of the time, and distribution/ sharing and microblogging services pay off between half and two-thirds of the time.

But only a third of resorts are using text messaging and QR codes for advertising purposes. And fewer still use virtual communities and resort apps. Is this because these technologies and services are less effective than websites, social media networks, and microblogging services, or because resorts have not learned to exploit them yet? Hard to say.

Text messaging pays off about half the time. With QR codes and resort apps especially, resorts have a ways to go in using them to raise revenues. Only four in ten of those who use QR code-based ads, on- or offsite, report a sales increase. With resort apps, just 25 percent report a sales increase. Given the great potential of resort-specific apps, it’s clear that there’s a good deal of untapped potential in this avenue.

What does all this mean? Resorts should continue to use websites, social media networks, microblogging services, distribution/sharing services, and paid online advertising to drive short- and long-term sales. And they should become familiar with the newer technologies, including resort apps, QR codes, and location-based services, because there are opportunities to increase sales with those technologies.

Additionally, the survey shows that some technologies and services, including resort apps, distribution/sharing services, and social media networks have more of a long- versus short-term impact on sales; consequently, they are especially useful for retaining customers and keeping them engaged. Not many areas have used resort apps and location-based services for check-ins and task completions, but there’s no reason resorts can’t adapt these tools for that purpose.

QR codes are also not widely used yet, but resorts that have employed them report increased sales about a third to half of the time, which is encouraging. As resorts become more clever in the way they use QR codes, these percentages will most likely rise.

To purchase the Executive Summary of the survey, e-mail We will also be preparing a series of white papers on specific aspects of the survey. For customized analyses and reports, please contact Peter Duchessi at

In fall 2011, executives and managers from almost 100 ski resorts (98, to be exact) in the U.S. and Canada responded to a survey about their use of several important technologies/services——including social media networks, microblogging services, and resort apps——which they employ for promotional and communications purposes. The survey was designed and conducted by GenAura, a marketing and IT consulting firm, and SAM.

The respondents represent a good cross-section of the industry. Just over one third are VP/directors of marketing and communications, 23 percent are marketing and communications managers and managers of social media. Many are from smaller areas: 50 percent work for ski resorts with sales of less than $5 million. Another 21 percent are from ski resorts with sales between $5 and $10 million, and 29 percent are from ski resorts with sales over $10 million. A third of the respondents are from the Northeast, 28 percent are from the Northwest and Pacific West, 16 percent from the Midwest, 12 percent from Canada and 11 percent from the Rockies.

We would like to thank David Amirault, interactive marketing manager at Aspen Skiing Company, and Christopher Rudolph, director of marketing services at Stevens Pass, whose insights greatly improved the questionnaire and the survey’s findings.