Vail-owned software firm dominates resort scene
Vail Resorts is best known for operating top-ranked ski resorts, but in recent years the company has also branched out into other areas. For example, VR has developed a robust presence in the tech sector, buying Internet service providers and even spinning off Resort Technology Partners (RTP) in 1997, a software company that dominates resort management software in the ski industry even among competing resort conglomerates like Intrawest.Vail Resorts owns a controlling interest in Avon-based RTP, which produces and supplies integrated resort software packages for eight of the top 10 and 12 of the top 20 North American mountain resorts, according to marketing and sales VP Peter Hoskins. Altogether, resorts serviced by RTP products account for one-third of all U.S. skier days.Hoskins would not reveal exact revenue figures for RTP but says the company has enjoyed record sales and revenues in the past few years, as it continues to win major resorts around the country as customers."Our software has allowed the ski industry to be transformed," Hoskins says, explaining that his company’s product not only improves corporate health and well-being, but also makes the resort experience more seamless and pleasant for guests by improving access and service."Like everyone, we were trying to figure out the best way to create the best Websites," says Vail marketing VP Chris Jarnot. By developing its own tech division, the company was able to get the services at a better level, Jarnot explains.But overall, Jarnot says RTP still only accounts for a "pretty minute" percentage of Vail’s business. Still, staying on top of the software game has enabled Vail to ride the crest of the Internet booking wave, he explains. In the first year VR installed its new systems, online reservations jumped dramatically, he says. The integrated programs allow the company to tie everything lessons, tickets, restaurant reservations and room bookings into one package, he adds.The idea of selling RTP products and services to the rest of the industry also meant VR could share the costs of research and development with the rest of the industry, says Mike Hibbs, one of VR’s information technology directors.Hoskins says his company’s product enables clients to give customers exactly what they want. "There is no guesswork. The result for the guest is a wider availability, inexpensive passes, flexible travel options and benefits of guest loyalty," he says. "For the resorts, RTP provides an immediate reduction in operating costs and a wealth of information to better shape their future marketing efforts."RTP was born in the mid-1990s as Vail Resorts sought to improve financial accountability. A driving factor was the Vail-Ralston merger, when top executives realized they were looking at 16 different computer systems at their four resorts."They needed to know, who are the customers, and what products are selling," Hoskins says. "They hired some consultants to go out and search for an operating system that could integrate and manage operations at a four-season resort." That means coordinating the information and financial data flowing through a multitude of outlets; food service operations, ticket offices, ski schools, rental shops and lodging facilities, Hoskins explains.Hoskins says the consultants came up empty handed. "They found nothing, so they decided to build it themselves," he says. "Those consultants (including experts from Microsoft, EDS, Perot Systems and IBM) became the founders of RTP. They created a company that could do that," Hoskins says.The integrated software package developed for Vail Resorts proved unique. And considering the top-notch development team associated with the product and its success at Vail Resorts, a decision was made to sell the software commercially.With support from Vail Resorts, RTP was formed in 1997 with the mission to develop products for the resort and recreation market. Specifically, the company targeted resort companies whose strategic directions matched the product and service offered by RTP.And while Intrawest and VR may battle for market share and rankings in skier surveys, in May of 2002, RTP announced it had signed a contract with Whistler Blackcomb, the Canadian company’s flagship resort located north of Vancouver, B.C."The vacation market today is nothing like it was when Blackcomb merged with Whistler in 1997," a senior Intrawest exec said in a press release at the time. "RTP is the only vendor we could find that offers the technology we need across the board. No matter where our guests go or what they buy, we know who they are, what they like, and how to get them through the doors and on the mountain."Other customers include Jackson Hole, Aspen Mountain/Snowmass (Aspen Skiing Company), Park City Mountain Resort (Powdr Corporation) and Northstar-at-Tahoe (Booth Creek Ski Holdings). The company also provides software for golf resorts and other leisure activity centers like theme parks and would like to expand in Europe, where several similar companies compete for the vast ski resort business. Many resorts in the Alps already use "smart-tickets," giving customers hands-free, direct-to-lift access. Hoskins says RTP’s technology could help North American resorts move in the same direction, providing the next generation of resort access.In fact, the hands-free ticket is already in use at Copper Mountain, where customers who buy the premium-price Beeline Pass can access certain lifts through a dedicated gate. A similar program could be in the works for Winter Park, according to Hoskins.
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