Margaret Moran

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October 23, 2012
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Experts: Social media, resort investments key to successful 2012-13 Tahoe winter

KINGS BEACH, Calif. - In response to last year's mild winter, state, regional and local marketing experts are offering advice on how North Tahoe can rebound and lure visitors back to the area this coming ski and snowboard season.

Investing in resort facilities, marketing to a wider spectrum of individuals and utilizing social and broadcast media were just a few of the suggestions experts offered at last Thursday's North Lake Tahoe Annual Membership Luncheon at the North Tahoe Event Center.

"I thought about it in a sense (that) we're a tourism destination in a crisis," said Julie Maurer, vice president of marketing and sales for Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows resorts, to a crowd of approximately 100 people.

"I thought about crisis ... and about something I learned in high school. When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters - one representing danger and the other represents opportunity," she said. "So as I thought about it, I thought there is great wisdom in this concept in terms of our rebound actions."

Maurer said she sees three areas of "opportunities" for North Tahoe: send a consistent community message, focus on diversifying the geographic market and recognize and reward loyal customers with package savings.

"In North Tahoe we have one of the most powerful messages this year in ski country," she said. "Due to the fact that in spite of this incredibly poor ski season we had last year, more dollars are being spent in capital improvements than just about any other mountain resort destination in the United States."

For example, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are in the middle of a five-year, $70 million capital improvement project dubbed the Renaissance, which includes new restaurants and shops, new terrain parks and new lifts.

"All of these improvements were designed to be more navigable, more approachable, more user-friendly and provide a much better guest experience," Maurer said.

Northstar California continues to make capital improvements, said Davy Ratchford, director of marketing for the resort, having spent $30 million in improvements last year - and $1 billion over the past decade.

As for the second area of opportunity, Maurer said resorts that attract a more diverse clientele base - both nationally and internationally - will fare better, a statement backed up by Lynn Carpenter, vice president of marketing for Visit California.

"I think it's worth saying, and I think people know this, from an economic perspective, last year during the global recession those resorts that had a strong reliance on international travel realized that people (who) book, they come, they stay longer, they spend more," she said. "Those destination folks are gold for all of us."

In order to entice international clientele to the area, however, efforts beyond local methods are needed, Carpenter said.

"When they are out there, they're not thinking, I should go to Lake Tahoe this year; they're thinking I should go to the United States," she said. "That's where they're starting (from) and then we've got to get in front of them and say, 'Hey, what about the West Coast.'"

Of Visit California's $50 million budget, Carpenter said 60 percent goes into the media, creating commercials such as "Friends in High Places," which features winter athletes tearing up the slopes.

Social media campaigns are also being utilized by marketers, said Andy Chapman, chief marketing officer at North Lake Tahoe Chamber/CVB/Resort Association.

Some of those include: mock "sick" photos for people to post on their Facebook page, should they call in sick on a powder day to go skiing or snowboarding; a phone application to "snowify" their surroundings and share that image with others with the North Tahoe brand; and an "escape the office game," all in an effort to brand North Tahoe as a fun escape.

"Our base layer is really looking at search engine marketing, digital brand engagement, mobile and out-of-home (efforts) ... and then we layered on that a television and print campaign for the wintertime," Chapman said.

Another social effort is to influence the influencers - people who have a large online following - Chapman said.

"Basically, we want to get these people up here, invite them up, host them with hotels and activities, and therefore, encouraging them to talk about Tahoe," Chapman said.

Ratchford said Northstar is already engaging in such efforts.

"Shaun (White) had two and a half million Facebook followers and over a million Tweeter followers," he said. "He is committed to posting about our community, Northstar almost every week. Those of us in marketing know that's a big deal. ... It's a really big deal for all of us to have these professional athletes that call Northstar home."

Of course, as always is the case in Tahoe, a lot of snow doesn't hurt either, something the experts were also calling for last Thursday.

"Do your snow dance and have a good winter," Chapman said.

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Oct 23, 2012 06:40PM Published Oct 23, 2012 06:38PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.