January 28, 2014
The ASSEMBLY Returns to SIA Snow Show
As the director of Denver-based Destimetrics, the research arm of the Advisory Group that provides comprehensive market intelligence to destination resorts around the country, Ralf Garrison has unique proprietary insights and information about trends and shifts in the behavior of mountain visitors and the destination lodging and resort market. Last year Garrison produced The ASSEMBLY in conjunction with the 2013 SIA Snow Show, the annual snow sports trade event produced by the Snowsports Industries Association (SIA) held in late-January at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. This year, Garrison inked a three-year deal to continue to produce and co-locate The ASSEMBLY as part of the Snow Show. We recently caught up with him to distill some of the last year’s findings and get an idea of what’s in store for The ASSEMBLY 2014.
Last year The ASSEMBLY came together pretty quickly, what’s the impetus for this forum?
Yes, it came together in about 40 days to be exact. For years industry leaders have recognized the need for a more collaborative effort to grow mountain tourism, one that provides a seat at the table to all players including ski areas, ski associations, community organizations, equipment manufacturers, retail shops, industry consulting firms, service providers, industry media outlets, and other key stakeholders. When I spoke with David Ingemie, president of SIA, it was clear that the Snow Show was the perfect venue, not only because of the ski industry executives already on site, but also in respect to the timing. Late January is in many respects “halftime” of the current ski season and coincides with business planning for the upcoming fiscal year. At this point in the year, we already have good performance data on the winter season with plenty of time to assess our performance and begin to implement plans for the upcoming year.
What were some of the key takeaways from last year’s ASSEMBLY?
Last year we feel we set the stage for an ongoing dialog that advances the interests of all who hold stake in mountain tourism. There were many takeaways. For example, we gained insight on the macro-economics that drive tourism and identified how the scheduling of school breaks across the country impact mountain travel. We learned how the weak economic conditions that began in the fall of 2008 caused the lodging industry to slash rates, and ultimately induced a “Groupon dynamic” among consumers, who were taught to anticipate discounts rather than paying premium rates. We also heard how airline consolidation was resulting in higher fares rates, particularly at mountain airports.
Our attendees identified mobile, big data, and social media as the three technologies most impacting mountain tourism. Also, the ongoing aging of the visitor base, and reported increases in average ski and snowboard ability level, indicate the need to attract more youth to the sport. This overall aging demographic is not only an issue regarding our customer base, but it also in future leadership, with 30 percent of the current industry leadership being 60 years old or older, compared to 18 percent in other industries. This is just a few of the takeaways from our inaugural ASSEMBLY. Those who attended last year’s event can access the complete white paper by emailing us at ASSEMBLY@DESTIMETRICS.com.
The Assembly has an expanded format this year; tell us about what we can expect.
The feedback from last year was overwhelmingly positive, and if there was a common sentiment, it was that folks who attended wanted to go both broader and deeper. They wanted more opportunity to network and interact in addressing some of the key issues raised. With this, this year’s ASSEMBLY has expanded to a full-day. The ASSEMBLY 2014 features a two-part agenda with distinct half-day segments designed to provide an executive level overview of the current business climate followed by a series of breakout sessions that will take an in-depth look at the issues and trends that most impact mountain tourism. In developing our sessions, we conducted a survey among last year’s attendees and have asked them to identify the topics they feel are of the highest priority. Combined, this year’s ASSEMBLY affords a comprehensive analysis of “what you ought to know” as a stakeholder in year-round mountain travel.
Tell us why The Assembly is designed with a rather exclusive invitation list.
Generally speaking, The Assembly can be likened to a Board of Directors meeting for the entire industry. Of course a primary ingredient to any effective board meeting is candor. We need a platform that allows us to communicate openly, but some of what is discussed and shared as part of The ASSEMBLY is information that is proprietary in nature. Therefore we’ve designed this to be an invitation-only event, and we extend additional invitations to our list of affiliate partners who can invite other key personnel. As with last year, we will provide general recaps and a white paper that details conclusions to other interested parties in the industry and our friends in the media.
What is the end goal of The Assembly?
The formation of The Assembly has created a recognized excitement within the industry, and one that is sure to spill over to consumers. As we continue to experience growing challenges in the marketplace, it’s imperative that we build both a fact-base and knowledge-base platform that advances the conversation, and The Assembly seeks to do just that. Our agenda is to create a forum that helps the industry’s stakeholders and tourism dependent businesses to better plan, market, and operate both within the broader winter mountain economy as well as year-round. As we develop our agenda, our underlying aim is to remain inclusive and mindful of the interconnectivity of various associations, attractions, equipment and service providers, retail outlets, destination marketing organizations, municipal organizations and other key players – all with the end goal of boosting overall mountain tourism and travel.
In the end, this unprecedented collaboration seeks to create greater cohesiveness resulting in better business on the industry side, while also creating a more optimized experience for consumers – from the stores where they shop, to the equipment they ski and snowboard with, to the places they stay while vacating, and the ski areas they frequent. Of course none of this would be possible without the support from our partners, and the time and effort given by our presenters. I think this is a proud occasion for the entire industry, and we should recognize all players that are coming forward to work in a collaborative fashion to build a better, stronger mountain tourism industry.