While your winter value proposition is well established, selling your summer offerings is often trickier. Here’s how to stand out in the “off season.” Ski resort operators are experts at selling winter to the snow-loving population. Even those newer to skiing and riding understand the idea of a ski vacation: buy a ticket, strap on some boards, and go. But when it comes to summer, your offerings may not be as clear (or exciting) to your audience, which can make selling them a challenging feat. Whether your winter guests are unaware of the fun to be had in your region during the “off-season” or you’re trying to attract a different kind of summer traveler, it’s important to choose your offerings wisely and present them clearly—among other key elements that experts in the travel industry say can make or break your summer business. Editor’s note: This story emerged from an education session of the same name at the 2022 SAM Summer Ops Camp in Mont Tremblant, Quebec. There, travel and mountain resort industry experts, including SE Group’s Claire Humber and Origin Outside’s MJ Legault, both contributors to this story, gathered with other panelists to discuss the nuances of selling your summer offerings to a less familiar consumer. DIAL IN YOUR AUDIENCE Before you begin to promote your summer offerings, you must consider who your summer customer is, what kinds of activities they are interested in, and how likely they are to travel to you to participate. For many mountain resorts, proximity to other summer attractions is the impetus for getting into the summer ops game, but it’s important to work through the feasibility of luring those travelers to your resort. “You have to understand your math related to who can come and why, will they stop and why, and then build your suite of activities, programs, and events around that,” says Claire Humber, director of resort planning for consulting firm SE Group. For example, says Humber, Eaglecrest Ski Area wanted to capture some of the roughly one million tourists that visit nearby Juneau, Alaska, via cruise ship each summer. When you do the math, though, the available piece of the pie isn’t as large as it might initially seem. “A million people show up, but only 40 percent of them get off the cruise ship to take an excursion,” explains Humber. “There are 60 excursions for them to choose from, and out of those, 80 percent take a certain type of excursion. The piece of that pie for you ends up being 12,000 people, not a million.” The right clientele. Capturing a large piece of the pie isn’t necessary, though. It’s more about capturing the right piece. Consider Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyo., says Humber. Located near Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, where millions flock during the summer months, JHMR’s solution to attracting its ideal clientele out of those millions—specifically, travelers who can pay top dollar for a transformative adventurous experience—was to build a via ferrata. Not only did this align with its brand, but it also zeroed in on a visitor type that was likely to veer from their national park itinerary for a unique outdoor experience and willing to pay for that experience, thus justifying the expense of building the attraction. Of course, not all resorts have such prolific neighbors, and many view their winter audience as the primary target for summer. Yet, Douglas Quinby, CEO of in-destination experiences think tank Arival, cautions against putting all your eggs in that basket. “I would be careful about making any assumptions [about your winter audience],” says Quinby. “Certainly, if you have a baseline of customers that visit your resort for skiing, it can be an easy direct marketing channel. But just because they come to you for skiing doesn’t mean they want to have anything to do with you during the summer.” TRAVELERS TODAY So then, how can you find the right visitors and attract them to your resort in the summer? First, says Quinby, understand that “there’s going to be a specific, ‘tier one’ attraction that makes a destination. There might be ‘tier two’ activities around that destination for added value.” In the winter, skiing/snowboarding is the tier one activity, with ancillary activities like snowmobiling, dog sledding, tubing, and snowshoeing falling into the tier two category. When it comes to courting summer business, though, it is important to understand whether you are the draw to the region or the add on. “In terms of marketing,” says Quinby, “it’s the tier one activities that will drive interest in the destination and the booking process, but with the tier two activities, there’s an opportunity to market to the customer once they’re already locked in.” Traveler mindset. It is also crucial to take stock of the mindset of today’s traveler and the societal impacts affecting their summer travel behaviors. “In the past, a lot of the marketing for summer was just about getting away,” says MJ Legault, principal at outdoor-focused marketing agency Origin Outside. “What we’re seeing with consumers after two [pandemic] years of being stuck in their homes is they’re not looking to just get away—they’re looking to have rich, transformative, incredible experiences.” Cost is less of a factor for travelers than it has been in the past, according to a study published by Arival, in which only about 10 percent of survey participants cited deals or discounts as an influence on “travel experience” purchasing decisions. Rather, people are looking for high-end experiences to make the most of their trips. “What’s come out of the pandemic is a very different traveler,” explains Quinby. “They aren’t traveling as often, but when they do, they are making the most of their trip. They want more and are OK with spending more to get it.” MAKE THE CASE Once you understand what kind of guest you are trying to attract, it’s time to convince customers to visit you. Today, the digital experience you provide to your audience is nearly as critical as what they’ll encounter in person. It all starts with clear and descriptive messaging and imagery about your offerings, often tailored toward first-time visitors. “I think a lot of the resorts in their marketing are making assumptions that your guests know exactly what an $80 ticket cost [for a summer activity or attraction] is going to provide to them. That’s a mistake,” says Legault. “We need to take a step back and put ourselves in the shoes of our guests, give them more guidance, and hold their hand a bit in terms of what to expect from that summer experience.” With that in mind, the team at Origin Outside rebuilt a resort client’s website to allow potential customers to select options like “I’m looking for fun and adrenaline,” or “I’m looking for relaxation,” and receive a list of matched activities. Activity descriptions are vital, too, with nearly 40 percent of respondents to Arival’s study indicating that descriptions weighed heavily on their decision to purchase an experience—more so than any other factor in the survey. Proximity to other attractions is something else you can leverage in your marketing. The activities offered at your resort may take a half day to complete, but showing the customer the big picture of your destination can help with their purchase decision. Compiling the various activities available at—or around—your destination through itinerary-style content can help your guest to plan and commit. “You can help guests with planning content,” says Legault. “For example, ‘if you’re coming for one day, here’s what you can expect;’ ‘here’s how you can structure your day at a resort;’ or ‘here’s what an itinerary could look like for you and your family.’” Highlight reviews. Additionally, according to Arival, there is a 26 percent increase in time spent on a web page when it features guest-generated reviews of an activity. Highlighting guest-generated reviews and content on your website can influence purchasing decisions and take stress off of your resort marketing team, which may be smaller in the summer months, to produce endless amounts of summer content. Photos and videos by travelers hold greater sway on purchasing decisions than professional photos and videos, too, according to Arival’s study. STREAMLINE THE BOOKING PROCESS Once your prospective customer has figuratively bought into the summer trip you’re selling, you have to make it easy and efficient for them to commit. Arival’s study found the ability to book online and the ability to talk to someone—via phone or online chat—rank high in what influences traveler purchasing decisions, even more so than discounts or the uniqueness of the activity. “We have seen a dramatic shift to online and mobile booking. These were trends that were well underway over the last 10 years, but were massively accelerated due to the pandemic,” says Quinby. “Globally, over half of all activity operators are still not using a booking system, and it’s a huge missed opportunity, both for consumers because they can’t find the activities, and for the operators because of the impact on business.” Make information available. For resorts that offer online booking for their own activities, but are also promoting other activities in the area to illustrate the destination’s broader appeal, it may be helpful to aggregate booking information for key attractions in your area within your website. Even if the offsite activities must be booked by phone or in-person only, including them will help your website to act as a key trip-planning resource for your customers. Availability for support during the planning and purchasing process helps your customer to book with confidence, be it by phone, email, or chat. While 24/7 support may not be feasible, being able to queue requests in a message center that can be handled first thing to keep the booking train rolling is recommended. Compiling and publishing a comprehensive list of frequently asked questions on your website can be another tool for your customer to source outside of business hours. Use tour operators. From a booking perspective, tour operators can also play a role in your summer business strategy. Their staff will become knowledgeable about the area and plan single or multi-day itineraries, which can include your attractions, and will often be the one-stop booking platform for those customers who don’t want to spend time researching, planning, and booking each step of their trip. A THOUGHTFUL APPROACH All in all, selling summer takes a thoughtful and calculated approach. Customer education is vital. It’s certainly not one-size-fits-all, but if you can determine how your guests may want to enjoy the mountains sans snow and deliver an enticing digital pre-trip experience followed by a top-notch in-person adventure, you’ll be solidly in the game.