Business And The Echo Boom: NSAA national convention addresses changing resort-customer base

It was a 90s kind of happening. The air temperature hovered around 90, the humidity registered 90, the water felt about 90, and an awful lot of the people who live on the island seemed to be 90. I think I can state unequivocally that nobody with roots in snowboarding would have chosen Marco Island, Florida for the National Ski Areas Association national convention.

Of course resort owners and managers, for the most part, don’t have their roots in snowboarding. That’s not a criticism-it wouldn’t even be a good idea with snowboarding averaging only twenty percent of lift- ticket sales.

But it’s relevant because a lot of focus and discussion at the NSAA convention was on increasing participation in the sport of snowsliding, with particular attention on how to reach the so-called Echo Boom generation. The selection of this venue, in some sense, is indicative of the gap between the resort owners and the demographic group they must reach in order to grow.

“Don’t Be Lame … Snowboard Advertising 101” featured Tim Garrett of McElroy Communications, TransWorld’s General Manager of SKATEboarding and WARP magazines Fran Richards, Burton’s Marketing Director Dave Schriber, and Rick Shoup of The Advice Group talking about opportunities and pitfalls in marketing to snowboarders. The overall conclusion was that snowboard and ski advertising must be prepared by different people, with separate budgets, and delivered through different channels. Schriber started his part of the session by making the audience stand and, as a group, admit they “were not rad.”

Including the two keynote speakers, there were thirteen presentations. Of those, seven had to do with general business issues and had titles that included: “Credit Cards … Turning Plastic Into Profits,” “Courting Corporate Sponsors,” and “A Passion For People … The Southwest Airlines Story.” In many ways, these seminars would’ve been appropriate for most industry conventions. The other six, directly or indirectly, had to do with expanding participation and reaching the Echo Boom market.

One session presented an update on Operation SnoBlast, the NSAA’s youth-marketing plan. The Winter X-Games were the subject of another presentation.

There was also a nearly two-hour presentation/discussion of the proposal that surfaced in the May issue of Ski Area Management calling for a three-year, 57-million-dollar advertising campaign supporting learning to ski and ride. The program, to be funded by contributions from SIA and NSAA members, was proposed and is being supported by, among others, Les Otten, Adam Aron, and George Gillett, chief executives of American Skiing Company, Vail Resorts, and Booth Creek, respectively. Otten made the presentation in support of the proposal, and stated that he expected to fund his company’s share of the proposal by raising prices. Aron and Gillett were not in attendance.

During the lengthy question-and-answer period, the proposal was not attacked, as similar ideas have been in the past. However, concerns were expressed that the money individual resorts would contribute to the program could be put to better use by the individual resorts.

Between presentations there was food, drink, good conversation, more drink, and fun. There was the poolside reception, the Lounge of Renown (a dance club where different people in the industry got to play their favorite music for an hour), the barbecue on the beach, a reception in the trade-show hall, the Lounge of Renown again, the cocktail reception, a gala dinner, and the closing reception. I noted (in passing) that it was a hell of a lot easier to talk a waiter out of a spare bottle of wine at the NSAA convention than at the last snowboard industry conference.

But fun, after all, is what the snowsliding business is all about-be it skis, snowboards, blades, tubes, or pieces of cardboard, If we remember and promote that, differences in attitude, dress, and musical taste will be overrwhelmed by what we have in common, and by the enthusiasm we can communicate to our potential customers.