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As an avid skier and snowboarder, I’ve spent many a winter vacation in the mountains. I’ve taken trips with my family, large groups, multigenerational groups and gone on couples’ retreats — all centered around skiing and snowboarding. It’s clear that these types of groups are a large part of travel bookings and, during the winter months, ski trips can play a key role in shaping vacations for clients. The West holds great opportunity — and great commissions — for agents whose clients want to take advantage of some of the best skiing in the country.
“There is great potential within families, organizations and Gen Xers,” said Olga Ramudo, president and CEO of Express Travel. “Potential for corporate meetings also exists within a ski trip since you can schedule sessions early in the morning and after the slopes close, offering four to five hours of meetings per day.”
Many resorts have clued into this potential and offer great deals for clients.
“One of the main things that we’ve seen in recent years is that resorts are using packages to entice visitors, including seasonal packages, hotel and ski packages,” said Craig Bannister, public policy and communications manager at Colorado Ski Country USA, a not-for-profit trade association representing Colorado’s 22 ski and snowboard resorts.
According to Bannister, now is the time to find great rates for the 2012-2013 season.
“The best time to find deals is in October when resorts begin to gear up for snowmaking,” he said. “In recent weeks, we have begun to see these packages roll out.”
Harry Peisach, president and CEO of Ski.com and SellSkiVacations.com, two websites that assist agents with creating and booking ski packages, agrees that now is the time to start contacting clients about their plans for the winter.
“Many book-by deals expire as soon as Oct. 15,” he said.
Peisach also pointed out that some destinations have limited air availability.
“Air seats can sellout in some of the more attractive resort destinations and with some of the most attractive deals,” he said.
Know the MarketWhen targeting clients for ski vacations, one of the most important things for travel agents to do is understand the market, know what’s out there and know what your clients’ needs are.
“Make sure you know the product and the ability of the customer as it relates to ski levels,” said Ramudo. “Ask clients if they are a beginner, an intermediate or an advanced skier. According to this information, choose the mountain that best fits their ability.”
For example, according to Ramudo, Aspen, Colo., is more suitable for expert skiers but other resorts have great beginner slopes.
“The location of the resort is also very important,” she said. “Do clients need to take a shuttle bus to take the kids to ski school in the morning? Do they need a ski-in/ski-out property with easy access to the slopes? Agent familiarization with the resort and mountain is a must.”
For those who don’t know the market as well, Peisach recommends that travel agents prequalify their clients using a list of questions offered on Ski.com. In addition, the company offers expert advice to agents.
“Our agents have an average of 23 years of experience,” said Peisach. “We don’t have a lot of turnover. Agents go through rigorous training and personally visit as many resorts as they can. They don’t read off of a script. They truly understand the product that they are going to sell.”
Product OfferingsWhile Aspen is good for experts, Breckenridge and Snowmass, both in Colorado, are known for their family-friendly options. Vail, Colo., and Whistler, B.C., are great for couples and are known for a variety of nightlife options. Heavenly Resort in Lake Tahoe, Calif., also appeals to a younger crowd.
“Heavenly is like the ‘wild child’ of Tahoe resorts and offers the most fun when the lifts stop turning,” said Daniel Pistoresi, dispatch for Ski Lake Tahoe.
Finding products and packages is easy through associations such as Colorado Ski Country USA.
“ColoradoSki.com can act as a one-stop shop for agents,” said Bannister. “They can visit the deals page and go from there to the resorts’ pages.”
Other sites, such as SkiUtah.com, Vail.com, SkiLakeTahoe.com, Ski.com and SellSkiVacations.com also offer good resources for agents.
Many of the packages are very inclusive — an aspect that is important to clients who don’t want to constantly pull out their wallet while on vacation. Travel agents can find packages that include air, hotel, lift tickets, meals and more. Not only are these offerings good for clients, they are a great way for agents to boost commission.
“There are additional revenue streams in booking a ski vacation such as airport transfers, ski equipment, ski lift tickets and additional activities, including sleigh-ride dinners, snowmobile rides and more,” said Ramudo. “These are all commissionable items.”
For example, Crested Butte and Steamboat, which are more remote than other locations, partner with airlines and include transfers in their packages, according to Bannister.
SellSkiVacations.com offers 10 percent commission on most of its products and assists agents with designing customized packages. In order to use the site, agents only need a valid ARC or IATA number.
“We have 65 agents on the phone who can assist with booking,” said Peisach. “We help them design the right package. Our agents will assist them with what they are looking for whether it is an adventure trip or a family vacation.”
SellSkiVacations.com agents can personally assist travel agents with bookings, or they can book online.
“The travel staff can prepare the booking online, and we will look at it, make sure it makes sense, provide advice if necessary and then prepare the documents,” said Peisach.
Commission on the entire trip, including ski rental, lift tickets and more, is automatically paid after travel and, whenever possible, SellSkiVacations.com pays commission on air.
“We will commission air if it’s available,” said Peisach. “We have access to products that agents might not be able to find or have access to. We have an incredible inventory. Travel agents can make the reservation and confirm the booking without having to make a phone call.”
Whether your clients are traveling solo or in a group, the West is an ideal gateway for a ski vacation — especially when you have the right tools to sell it.
Colorado Ski Country USAwww.coloradoskicountry.com
Sell Ski Vacationswww.sellskivacations.com
Ski Lake Tahoewww.skilaketahoe.com
Ski.com recommends qualifying clients using the following questions:
What are your client’s preferred travel dates or their window of opportunity for traveling?
What is the makeup of the party? (Family, couples, singles, etc.)
How many people are in the party? Are there any adults, children, teens, seniors?
What quality of lodging is the client interested in?
What else is important to your client when determining lodging? (Proximity to ski slopes, pools, Jacuzzi/hot tub, restaurant on site, spa, fitness center, fireplace, etc.)
What components would your clients like included in their package? (Air, vehicle rental, ground transfers, lift tickets, equipment rental, insurance, etc.)
What is your client’s price point per person?
Where have they stayed before?
What level are the skiers (or snowboarders) in your client’s party? Is there a mix of abilities? Are there skiers and snowboarders? Non-skiers? (Note: Some mountains do not allow snowboarding.)
What activities are your clients interested in doing besides skiing or snowboarding? (Dining, nightlife, shopping, ice skating, spas, etc.)