An informative Q & A with Aspenware’s VP of Service, Jenni Buonanni.
Snow is falling, and some North American resorts have already opened, with many more opening in the next month. This season, resorts are relying on online bookings more than ever before. In fact, many resorts are closing their ticket windows and only accepting bookings online, so it’s never been more important to have a seamless e-commerce experience.
To learn more about what that looks like, Aspenware vice president of service Jenni Buonanni answers a few questions. Buonanni has been on Aspenware's leadership team as the service organization leader for the past 4 years. Aspenware's service team closely partners with resorts to help guide and support their technology and commerce strategies. She's also a key decision maker around product roadmap, working closely with resorts and industry leaders to stay abreast to the needs and dreams of the ski industry.
Aspenware is a software provider that specializes in enhancing the guest booking experience, both online and upon arrival at the resort.
What should resorts consider when selecting an e-commerce solution for their resort?
E-commerce is a foundational aspect of a resort’s digital evolution and will continue to be more important as younger generations engage with resorts. Partnering with software vendors that leverage the latest technology and care about innovation aimed at enhancing the guest experience is key. These qualities should be the core DNA of a partner’s business and roadmap.
More immediately, an e-commerce solution must be able to quickly adjust as needed to the changing requirements amid the pandemic. The move to selling all resort products online was hastened by the pandemic, of course, but it’s a necessary move that needed to happen anyway.
In other words, this is not a short-term solution. An e-commerce platform must be able to handle the demands of today as well as those of the future. It needs to be easy to use on both the front and back ends. It needs to be designed with the overall guest experience in mind. And it must be able to support selling 100 percent of a resort’s products online.
Is it possible for e-commerce to support 100 percent of a resort’s products?
It is. This has been a huge focus of ours at Aspenware. In addition to regular online product offerings such as lift tickets, rentals, and lessons, Aspenware Commerce supports many unique product types. Its voucher redemption flow allows guests to enter a voucher ID or coupon and redeem the fenced product online. This functionality can support online fulfillment of offers like buddy tickets, friends and family tickets, Mountain Collective, promos and other vouchers without clogging up ticket window lines.
What about date-specific products and inventory control?
A resort’s e-commerce platform and point-of-sale (POS) system should seamlessly communicate with one another. This requires deep integration, which is a hallmark of Aspenware’s software. Its enhanced inventory functionality allows the e-commerce platform to display available spots online in real-time from the resort’s POS system. Cart locking of available inventory ensures products aren't oversold and the sales made online are reflected in the POS in real-time. This ensures all sales channels are working from the same inventory levels, and inventory is all managed in the same place.
Many resorts are limiting the number of lift tickets that can be sold per day this season. The option to display the number of tickets available per day on a dynamic pricing calendar, for example, can create a sense of urgency, or at the very least offers transparency. Aspenware has dynamic pricing functionality to ensure resorts are maximizing the yield on any given day.
What qualities should an e-commerce platform have that make it easy for all guests to successfully complete a transaction?
It’s common in the ski industry for e-commerce sites to display long lists of products for guests to choose from. While this granularity is a requirement in the POS, it’s not a good guest experience to thumb through hundreds of product titles to select the correct one for each family member. If the process is time-consuming and difficult to navigate, guests will give up and call—or move on entirely.
The e-commerce experience should be designed to flow like a conversation between a booking agent and a guest. Aspenware Commerce was designed with that in mind. It uses attributes and add-ons to find out what the guest is looking for, and then match it to the correct product in the point of sale system. Guests who are looking for lift tickets can add on rentals, lessons, and tubing tickets, for example, with a quick tick of a box.
Resorts that move to this kind of an e-commerce engine have greatly increased conversion rates and overall online revenue.
The e-commerce system needs to be mobile-friendly, too. We see year over year at least a 10 percent increase in mobile views and conversions. Currently, more than 50 percent of online bookings for ski resorts are on mobile devices. If the solution is not completely responsive, guests will give up making their booking online.
The online transaction is only part of the equation. What should resorts look at when considering how the online orders are fulfilled?
You can have the best e-commerce solution out there, but if the bookings made online don't integrate into your fulfillment system, the on-site guest experience suffers because significant manual processes are required by resort staff. Plus, in-person interaction needs to be limited as much as possible this season. If guests that book online then need to check-in or pick up from a desk or window, lines can form, and social distancing becomes a challenge.
Another benefit of the Aspenware integration with a resort point of sale system is that guests can buy products, reload their RFID cards, and update personal information such as waivers, on their phones in the parking lot. When they arrive, their RFID card will immediately work at the lift. No need to stop at a ticket window before heading to the hill.
For guests that need to pick up their lift ticket media, offering a contactless experience is ideal. Aspenware Integration with SkiData Skiosks and/or Axess Pick Up Boxes means guests can buy a ticket on their phone and collect their media from these contactless kiosks right away.
What is the biggest change you are seeing this year for resorts selling products online?
That’s easy: Limited capacity lift tickets, volume management, and passholder reservations!
Limiting capacity means way more volume online, all at the same time. Guests are booking tickets as soon as they go on-sale to ensure they can ski when they want.
We are seeing a much higher online volume for ticket sales than we would normally at this time of year. This type of precommitment is great for the industry and locking in these sales early in the season is something many resorts are hoping will be a continuing trend.
Passholder reservations is something the industry had never imagined before this year, but is now necessary to have in the back pocket at many resorts—whether it’s implemented from opening day, or needs to be introduced mid-season as the pandemic progresses.
Aspenware Commerce supports passholder reservations that ensure only eligible passholders can make a reservation online and they can go directly to the lift on their reserved days. Functionality includes limiting the number of reservations a guest can hold at any given time, and reservations can be cancelled online. It is all integrated into the POS to ensure that lift access is only granted to those that have a valid reservation.
What else is Aspenware doing to help resorts prepare for this unique winter?
Our customer service team is working with all our resorts daily to talk through their unique challenges. We have added new team members to ensure that we can be there for our partners during these times.
In addition, we are rolling out our new Aspenware Arrival product to 15 resorts in the next few weeks.
Aspenware Arrival is designed to decrease the need for guests to stand in line once they are at the resort. Guests can complete required information such as waivers, child registration, rental profiles, and photos on their mobile device from anywhere. No need to sign a paper waiver or visit a customer sign-in station—it can all be done online.
Some resorts are even considering using Arrival for daily health checks for skiers. Arrival will also provide guests with a quick way to access the QR codes needed to collect their ticket or pass from a Pickup Box or Skiosk. QR codes in Arrival can be added to your Apple or Google wallet for easy recall. More functionality will continually be added to this platform.
This article is part of the SAM Mountain Department on contactless technology brought to you by Aspenware.