define('DISALLOW_FILE_EDIT', true); define('DISALLOW_FILE_MODS', true); Tremblant (finally) hires an agency » strategy

Tremblant (finally) hires an agency

Intrawest resort gears up for '180-degree shift' in marketing strategy

The ski season is ramping up, and so is the marketing department at Mont Tremblant. This year, for the first time ever, the resort is working with an outside advertising agency.

Quebec’s Mont Tremblant Ski Resort, owned by Vancouver-based resort mogul Intrawest, handed its account to Montreal-based Zoum in early November. The decision is part of a ’180-degree shift’ in marketing, says Tremblant’s director of marketing Michael Dalzell.

‘Our goal is really to pull away from the marketing co-ordination side of things and focus on strategic planning, segmentation and business analytics,’ says Dalzell. ‘We’re counting on Zoum to do our creative, production and media planning.’

Traditionally, Tremblant relied on an internal marketing group and worked with a local advertising agency. ‘We did our own creative and, honestly, we spent a lot of time on photo selection and not as much time with regard to business planning, strategic planning, new product development, and really understanding our core segment,’ says Dalzell.

In the late ’80s, Tremblant was a struggling venture on the verge of bankruptcy. In 1991, Intrawest bought the resort with the intention of turning it around. It based the project on the Whistler model that has proven so successful. Step one is to build an animated resort village that will entice visitors to stay longer, and spend more money. The increased number of visitors drives an investment in real estate and new attractions. This in turn lures more visitors, which enhances the real estate value even further.

Ten years and $1 billion later, Mont Tremblant is back in the game. Some 2.2 million people visited the mountain last year; 800,000 bought lift tickets. Commercial space in the village produces average annual sales per square foot of $550, which puts Tremblant in the top 10% of all interior retail developments in Canada. Intrawest’s investor Web site features the Tremblant success story as an exemplary case of its tried-and-true business model.

And it’s not just financial. The mountain has been voted the number-one ski resort in eastern North America by readers of Ski magazine for the last seven years.

The mountain has proven resilient during the recent overall decline in the travel industry. A 1.7% decline in skier visits was offset by a 12% increase in revenues per skier last ski season. But the larger decline is ongoing and called for a shift in strategy.

‘When Intrawest took over, it was so huge it was a matter of build it and they will come,’ says Dalzell, who has been with the company in Tremblant for the better part of the last 10 years. ‘Now, as our competitors become more and more sophisticated, we need to increase our marketing sophistication.’

The first assignment for Zoum was an initiative designed to increase loyalty among local customers, a base which Dalzell says has increased in the last nine months as the U.S. market has remained slow.

The campaign will tout a new offer from the Tremblant Max card, a discount offered only to locals who live within the H, J and K postal codes surrounding the mountain. In the past, skiers who paid $34.52 (or $50.50 after Nov. 29) for the card received a 20% discount on weekend lift tickets, a 30% discount on weekday tickets, and their sixth visit free. Those renewing their card from the previous season get an even cheaper rate.

This year, starting Dec. 1, Tremblant is introducing eMax, an online ticket-buying service that offers 5% to 40% discounts which change daily depending on the weather and occupancy rates at the resort. Tremblant is the first resort in North America to offer the technology.

‘There’s a seven-day window for ticket buyers, so this is only of interest to those who can make last-minute decisions and actually get there and ski,’ says François Laganière, VP client services at Zoum. Ads are now running in Laurentian newspapers and at www.tremblant.ca. Billboards have yet to confirmed.

Last season, Tremblant sold 3,000 of the cards, along with 9,000 season passes.

The challenge now is to bolster Tremblant’s image further afield. Dalzell cites resorts like Vail, Beaver Creek and Copper Mountain in Colorado, Killington and Stowe in Vermont and Sunday River in Maine as chief winter-season competitors.

‘We know we have some work to do with regard to top-of-mind awareness in key markets.’ Those include Toronto, New York and Boston, where Dalzell plans to implement competitive, all-inclusive packages, as well as Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto (again), which will soon see new programs making the mountain more price-competitive.