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COVID-19 and Ski Resorts (III). Riding Uncharted Mountains

"A crisis can bring out the best - and worst - in a person, a country, or an organization", Terry O'Reilly

COVID-19 is the most significant crisis of our lifetime. We are on the way to the hardest social and economic crisis we have ever experienced after World War II, a case only then comparable to that of the post-war period.

Taking into account the introduction of travel restrictions across the world due to the COVID-19, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) expects that international tourist arrivals will be down by 20% to 30% in 2020 when compared with 2019 figures. The decline in international tourism receipts (exports) is expected to be in the range of US$300-450 billion, almost one-third of the US$ 1.5 trillion generated in 2019. Putting this into context, UNWTO notes that in 2009, on the back of the global economic crisis, international tourist arrivals declined by 4%. Gregg Blanchard of surveyed resort marketers to measure the state of marketing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. About 70 respondents shared where they were in terms of financial impact, season pass sales, marketing budget, and more. Overall 93% of respondents were “somewhat”, “very”, or “extremely concerned” given the current situation. Asked about the overall marketing strategy and outreach at the moment, none of the ski resorts is pushing out a lot of promotional messages and 27% aren’t pushing out any marketing at all, putting everything in hold. Asked about their Season Pass strategy, 56% of the ski resorts surveyed had pushed pause on all season pass marketing but 60% are still selling them. Gregg Blanchard thinks it is a perfect anecdote about our current dilemma as ski resort marketers: "our products are still for sale, but we feel uncomfortable promoting them to our audiences right now". We should understand ski resorts are becoming more dependant on advance sales for cash flow.

During these times of uncertainty, it is more important than ever to connect with your current and future customers.

Tourism has proven to be among the most resilient industries and is called to lead the future recovery. After a long period of isolation, the desire to travel will be greater than ever. Although mountain destinations, and all those that offer direct contact with the natural environment- and a greater sense of freedom-, will be one of the most favored, behavior patterns can vary dramatically compared to pre-crisis times. And convincing people to book again is going to be challenging despite customers want to go back to our mountain destinations when they will have the opportunity.

"COVID-19 will go away. At that point in time, it will be imperative that your resort marketing team evaluate the landscape and ensure that you are re-entering the market in a way that will bring business levels back up to normal while remaining sensitive to any changes that may have occurred to the ski vacation landscape", ORIGIN

Skiers are more likely to stay local. This will create an opportunity for local destinations to increase its share market. Regional drive and short-haul destinations will likely get a relative boost over International long-haul destinations. Travelers will initially be very cautious and long-haul travel will take longer to recover.

Destinations that rely heavily on large-scale operators, groups, and MICE are most at risk (rely on the events to drive demand was a good thing in the past but under the current circumstances and possible restrictions is not). Everyone’s on shock right now, and no-one has the answer as to when this crisis will be over or knows the route book to sail in these unchartered waters. Ski Resorts' recovery will require a strategic, research-based, creative and innovative approach.

I think under the current circumstances we must combine a tactical mindset in the short term with a more strategic approach in the midterm.

One more thing. During the lockdown, people are more active on social media than ever so it is a great opportunity to keep in touch with your customers. It's not right to keep posting as if everything is normal but going quiet on social media is also not a good plan. You should maintain your Brand presence on social media. Activate a positive approach (sharing, for instance, inspiring photos and videos of the season) to your digital content to remain top of mind with your guests, and niche markets. But we will talk about that in a more extended way in our next article. To be continued...


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