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Aspen Skiing Co. cranks up March marketing

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy Aspen Skiing Co.Billboards like this were erected by the Aspen Skiing Co. last week in Chicago and San Francisco. They are tied to a promotion to increase business in late February and March.
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ASPEN, Colorado – Aspen Skiing Co. officials figure they have come up with the perfect way to capture the attention of skiers and riders in the resort’s major markets.

Last week the Skico placed three huge billboards each in Chicago and San Francisco that feature a skier shooting off a snow-covered cliff. “It’s Time to Fly,” the billboards proclaim in big type. “Daily non-stops to Aspen/Snowmass,” smaller copy continues. The big ads also list the four Aspen-Snowmass ski areas and the Skico’s website.

A different billboard featuring Aspen Olympic snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler was placed in two strategic places in Los Angeles. The billboards vary in size from 12-by-12 feet to 14-by-48 feet.

They are part of a broader marketing campaign designed to get the phones ringing for the second half of the season, particularly during spring break.

“March is a really important period for us because occupancies can be as high as Christmas,” Skico Vice President of Marketing Jeanne Mackowski said Monday.

Former Skico President and CEO Pat O’Donnell once explained that the company toils into March just to break even. March is when profits are earned – or not.

Current occupancy reports show there are holes to fill at Aspen-Snowmass between Feb. 20 and March 20. “That’s why we’re going full guns in the marketplace,” Mackowski said.

In conjunction with the billboards, Skico sent out direct-mail pieces to 100,000 past guests and prospective visitors from its database. Print and online advertisements were run in newspapers in the major markets where the billboards were placed, creating a one-two punch of messages.

And e-mail promotions will be sent multiple times this month to 200,000 people in the “direct-fly markets” where the billboards were placed. Mackowski called the practice of marketing to specific addresses “geo-targeting.”

Skico also will sponsor a contest in which people will be encouraged to post pictures of the billboards on their Facebook pages or Twitter accounts for a chance to win a trip to Aspen in a drawing.

All the various messages are directly or indirectly tied to two special promotions the Skico featured this winter – “The Perfect Storm” package and the “Kids Stay, Ski Free” deal.

The Perfect Storm gives a fifth lift ticket and fifth night of lodging when four are purchased. It also provides discounts on everything from ski-school lessons to meals at some restaurants.

The package is good from Feb. 10 through April 4. The deadline to book was originally Jan. 15, but the Skico extended it to Jan. 31.

The Skico’s other major promotion allows one child, age 7-12, to stay and ski free in March for each adult purchase of four days of lift tickets and five nights of lodging. The deadline to book that deal was also extended to Jan. 31.

Mackowski said her talks with more than 40 ski tour firms indicate the promotions are working. Customers respond when they learn about the deals. The extended booking period isn’t a sign they are failing.

“We wanted to capitalize on a little later booking pattern,” she said. Travelers are waiting longer to book vacations because they know they can score deals, and the Skico decided to keep those deals available.

That strategy appears vital for salvaging the season. A recent report by the Mountain Travel Research Program, or MTRiP, showed the number of people making reservations in December slowed considerably from October and November, and that occupancy in resorts throughout the West lags behind last season. That’s unsettling because business tumbled last year in the recession. Last season was the weakest for tourist accommodations in mountain resorts in almost a decade, said MTRiP Director Ralf Garrison. Skier visits also sagged. The Skico’s customer visits were down 7.6 percent from 2007-08.

“We aren’t seeing any significant increase in demand for vacations from last year except when low price or special promotions and events are added to the mix,” Garrison said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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