Liftopia, the 7-year-old website that has brought the principles of revenue management advance purchase to the ski industry, has just introduced its Partner Intelligence Dashboard, offering ski areas a roadmap of what future business looks like so they can adjust their pricing to beef up sales on slow days.
Liftopia's primary goal is to help ski areas increase sales on their own websites. But it also offers an affiliate program, which travel agencies, hotels serving ski areas and media sites can use to sell lift tickets in advance for a commission.
Even in the travel industry, which is uniquely vulnerable to weather-related and geopolitical events, the ski industry stands out for its high fixed costs, low variable costs, tremendous ancillary spend and what Liftopia's COO and co-founder Ron Schneidermann calls "ridiculous" shifts in demand that are beyond the control of ski area businesses.
Iffy weather, slippery roads, stiff muscles, injuries, even a hangover can keep skiers and boarders off the slopes, according to Schneidermann and Evan Reece, his co-founder and CEO.
At the same time, talk to any skier in the off-season and they will say they intend to ski more the next year than they did in previous years. A ski area that gives those skiers an incentive to buy lift tickets in advance means that skier is far more likely to actually go skiing. The idea is to identify the peaks and valleys of the season so that ski areas can price lift tickets accordingly.
For the most part, according to Schneidermann and Reece, the reigning metric for most ski areas has traditionally been the parking lot: The number of cars tells how busy the resort is. While accurate, it's just a snapshot of that day. Liftopia's new dashboard also gives resorts snapshots of past history and predicted future performance, then offers ways to adjust pricing.
It provides customized service to individual ski areas, but because it partners with 250 ski areas, it has a lot of data for helping ski areas adjust their pricing. A bar chart shows when they've got lots of bookings and when they don't.
A day or period with a booking gap, Schneidermann said, "is the market telling you it's not priced appropriately."
A ski area might find that its three-day tickets are selling well and its one-day tickets are selling well but its two-day tickets are lagging. The takeaway might be that two one-day tickets are a better deal than one two-day ticket.
For example, demand is high for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, and from Liftopia's data for the past several years, it knows that many skiers head up Thursday night to ski on Friday, adding another day to their weekend, then depart on Monday. If a ski resort prices Monday tickets attractively, it can spread those tickets across four days to get skiers to stay through Monday.
"We're trying to help ski areas go direct to consumers and capitalize on the brand they've worked so hard to build," Schneidermann said.
Liftopia said its numbers show that revenue management works. The company said that last season, one of the worst on record, resorts that participated in Liftopia grew revenue 40% year over year, and yield was up 7.4%, while Liftopia's top 10 resorts saw a 64% increase in net revenue and an 8.4% same-store gain in yield.
Through September, Liftopia's same-store ticket sales for resorts it worked with were up 110% year over year, the company said.
"We're trying to transform the way that this entire industry analyzes and prices and sells and distributes their core inventory, using data and software and focusing on advance purchasing," Schneidermann said.
Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly.