Last winter, British Columbia winter resorts enjoyed epic snowfall while virtually every resort south of the border struggled mightily. B.C.’s 6.3 million skier visits made it the second-busiest on record. The province’s resorts now account for more than one in 10 North American snow-sport visits and contribute $1.1 billion—roughly 10%—to B.C.’s tourism GDP.
Good times, eh? Not entirely. For three decades, B.C. has been growing its share of a static pie, as declining numbers of participants put in more days on the slopes. Aggressive post-recession pricing and a strong Canadian currency have lately placed new pressure on the industry, both in terms of yield per lift ticket and keeping the domestic vacationer from travelling elsewhere for a ski or sun getaway.
That explains the rationale for Ski It to Believe It, this season’s beefed-up $1.5-million marketing campaign by Tourism BC and 13 destination resorts to target snow enthusiasts in Ontario, California and Washington. According to Carol Nelson, Tourism BC’s executive director of marketing, the emphasis is on connection—driving people to a new microsite—then putting the consumer directly in contact with the resorts.
“We can consistently monitor the effectiveness of this campaign and change up the messaging if we have to. It takes out some of the guesswork,” she says. The initiative employs both traditional tactics such as ski show exhibitions and innovative, “geo-targeted” on-line advertisements. Site visitors can win a $15,000 ski vacation to a resort of their choice, which helps capture data and produce relevant, permission-based messages directly targeted at them.
“I must say, when I first heard ‘Ski It to Believe It,’ I kind of thought—really? I’m pretty sure they had a program with that tag line back in the 1980s,” says Peter Williams, director of the Centre For Tourism Policy and Research at Simon Fraser University. But he endorses the approach of leveraging B.C.’s status among the ski and snowboard world’s cognoscenti, whose use of social media significantly influences vacation patterns. While increasingly snow-deprived American and European resorts are offering activities for when the slopes are bare, B.C. can stay focused on the core experience.
Through meetings and conference calls last spring, this season’s campaign also sought more input from participating resorts, which range from industry titan Whistler Blackcomb to family-friendly Sun Peaks. Michael J. Ballingall from Big White Ski Resort chairs the BC Resort Marketing Committee. He describes the relationship between the 13 resorts as being “fabulous, but competitive. Tourism BC has the budget to put B.C. skiing in front of a lot more eyeballs in our key markets. Our pre-season bookings from destination markets are up double digits from last year. It’s up to Mother Nature now.”