Resorts are counting on the Millennial generation, poised to overtake the Baby Boom generation in 2019 as the largest generation, to replace the declining skier visits of Baby Boomers. How different is this often-discussed next generation? Let’s compare Millennials’ satisfaction, loyalty, and selected behaviors to those of the other generations of skiers and riders, and highlight initiatives that ski resorts are taking to grow this cohort.
First, just who are the Millennials? Most demographers say this generation begins with birth dates in the early 1980s and ends with birth dates in the late ’90s.
GUEST SATISFACTION AND LOYALTY
To understand how well resorts meet the needs and wants of Millennials, we extracted and then aggregated post-departure survey data from 39 ski resorts in North America. The findings that follow are based on a total of 45,000 surveys completed by Millennials during the 2017-18 season.
The collective feedback was filtered by the resorts’ own definitions of the Millennial generation’s age range, typically 18–34, and further defined as younger Millennials (ages 18 to 24) and older Millennials (ages 25 to 34).
So: Are Millennials that different from earlier generations? To find out, we compared the Millennials’ Net Promoter Scores (NPS) to those of the other generations combined. Among the key findings:
1. Millennials are equally as loyal. Their “likelihood to recommend the resort” NPS was 69 percent, essentially even with the 68 percent for the other generations.
2. Younger Millennials are more loyal than older Millennials, having a 73 percent NPS compared to 68 percent for older Millennials.
3. Millennials are more satisfied, and younger Millennials are more satisfied than older Millennials. Using Net Promoter scoring:
• Millennials rated their overall visit experience/satisfaction higher than other generations, 62 percent vs. 55 percent. Younger Millennials rated their overall experience/satisfaction at 68 percent, 10 points higher than older Millennials.
• Millennials rated their overall level of fun higher than the other generations, 66 percent vs. 60 percent. Younger Millennials rated their level of fun at 70 percent, 8 points higher than older Millennials. Studies have shown that fun is a major driver of skiers’/riders’ loyalty.
• Millennials rated their overall dining experience higher than the other generations, 28 percent vs. 17 percent. This is important, because F&B is typically the second-highest source of gross revenues, and is often rated lower than other departments.
• Millennials rated the online store higher than other generations, 39 percent vs. 25 percent. This may reflect the Millennials’ comfort with digital shopping compared to older generations.
4. Millennials are less likely to buy season passes. Just 21 percent of Millennials purchased a pass last season, compared to 27 percent for other generations. There was no difference in younger and older Millennials pass purchases.
5. Millennials recommend a resort at the same rate. Although they are more engaged in social media and more likely to write reviews, Millennials are no more likely than the other generations to have recommended the resort to others in the previous 12 months. Still, that likelihood was 83 percent for Millennials, 84 percent for other generations.
6. Millennials are twice as likely to snowboard. Forty-two percent of Millennials indicated they snowboard, compared to 18 percent of other generations.
MARKETING TO MILLENNIALS
Given the size of the Millennial segment, their lower average visit frequency—5.3 days per season—and their importance to the industry’s future, how are resorts marketing to Millennials? Here’s what we learned from a sampling of ski resorts:
1. Most resorts do not market specifically to Millennials as a generation. Instead, they market to younger adults, beginning at age 18, or to multiple generations, including Millennials. Some resorts target younger adults as a bridge to the family segment.
2. Significantly less marketing is done to older Millennials, particularly those 30 to 37. These folks are often considered part of the family segment.
3. The most common marketing initiatives involve lowering the cost season passes to young adults. Rarely do these passes include older Millennials, however. Sugarbush, Vt., is one of the few who do, with its “For30s” pass for ages 30 to 39, which is not as discounted as its “For20s” pass for ages 19 to 29.
A few examples of marketing discounted season passes to young adults:
• Schweitzer offers a lower-priced Young Adult pass for 19- to 26-year-olds that includes the same benefits as its Adult Pass, including full Powder Alliance benefits.
• Boreal Mountain Resort offers a discounted Young Adult Pass for 18- to 23-year-olds, as well as a Teen Pass for 13- to 17-year-olds.
• Killington’s Unlimited pass is discounted about 30 percent for ages 18 to 29. Also, Killington recently introduced the “Beast 365” pass, a subscription-based, year-round pass. It, too, has a discounted “29-below” option. It includes skiing, golf, mountain biking, and other activities and benefits.
• Similarly, Camelback introduced a “Hero Pass” for ages 19 to 29, which is a discounted version of its all-access pass, as well as a Value Pass, with holiday blackouts, at a further discount. These came in response to a decline in pass sales to those in their 20s, and generated a 23 percent increase in sales to the 19 to 29 age group.
Given the lower purchase rate of season passes by Millennials, these discounted passes make sense. However, should they be offered to all Millennials, or only to those up to age 29, as many resorts currently do?
4. Ticket Packs and Cards: Discounted ticket packs save money, and don’t require a commitment to a season pass. King Pine sells, for a limited time, a transferable Triple King Card that provides three any-day lift tickets. Several Colorado resorts sell ticket four-packs, primarily during the pre-season.
OTHER MARKETING STEPS
1. Persona Marketing: Several larger resorts, including Squaw Valley, Killington, and Aspen Snowmass, have created “personas” of various key guest segments to guide their marketing. Typically, one or more of these is for younger Millennials.
2. Special Events: While resorts typically stage events—concerts, brew fests, races, festivals, etc.—to appeal to a broad audience, some target younger audiences specifically. Many of these events in winter are terrain park focused.
Wachusett is 90 minutes from Boston. To help reach the 18 to 24 demographic, Wachusett presented a College Marketing Challenge to marketing and research students at Babson College. That led to five “Get Over the Hump” Wednesday night promotions that included discounted pricing and a ski train with connecting shuttle service to the mountain. This supplemented its UPass for college students. The area plans to build on this program and other ideas developed by and with the students.
Although not specifically targeting college students, King Pine offers “$10 Tuesday Nights.” This promotion includes $10 night lift tickets, $10 equipment rentals, $10 terrain park lessons, $10 snow tubing, and a $10 burger and beer offering.
3. Values-based Marketing: Studies have shown that a company’s values are more important to Millennials than to older generations. Millennials tend to be more concerned with climate change and environmental sustainability, for example, and resorts can tout their actions on these fronts. Most notably, “The Aspen Way” is a proclamation of what “we stand for, and embrace what brings us together as people.”
Is sustainability important? To gauge guests’ attitudes, Boreal Mountain’s surveys ask, “How important are environmental sustainability initiatives to you when choosing a ski resort?” The area is adding questions on this subject as it continues to invest in sustainability projects.
4. Digital Marketing: As resorts increasingly emphasize digital marketing, they are upgrading websites to make them mobile-friendly and easier to use. They are also adding mobile apps and expanding the use of social media. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are the most popular, with Instagram gaining importance with the younger audience. Indicative of another trend, several resorts now have content managers, rather than marketing/advertising managers. Camelback’s HR department is using Snapchat for staff recruiting.
5. Cell and Wi-Fi Service: Resorts continue to improve their cell and Wi-Fi service on- and off-mountain and increase their bandwidth in lodging properties to handle more devices per room or condominium.
As younger Millennials mature, get married, and start families, will they take on many of the characteristics of older Millennials? We believe so. That said, there are still more steps resorts can take to make it easier for older Millennials with families to enjoy skiing and riding, and help maintain their enthusiasm and higher satisfaction. These steps largely reflect those that have always fueled our sports: Make it easy and make it fun!