Original Article

Now that consumers have gotten used to finding cheap flights and hotel rooms one the web, it's time for more verticals in the online travel market. Catering to slope-bound travelers, Liftopia lets ski resorts sell discounted lift tickets online. Visitors simply choose dates and regions (such as Lake Tahoe or New Hampshire) where they want to ski, and then scroll through a list of budget-priced lift tickets. Basically, Liftopia encourages price differentiation for lift tickets. Resorts are able to charge lower prices for tickets sold in advance-which can't be canceled-and keep prices for on-mountain sales at a higher level.

Avid skiers and boarders have several good reasons to like the San Francisco-based start-up. For starters, ski resorts at popular mountain destinations are normally clustered within a few miles of each other. So enthusiasts looking for day or weekend trips can use the site to choose which resort among the group to visit. To make that quest easier, Liftopia's search engine lets visitors select resorts that are easy drives from several heavily populated US regions. The site also incorporates up-to-the-minute weather data and trail maps to help skiers make their choice. Besides customers who are willing to commit to a trip in advance, Liftopia's discount pricing should also attract budget-minded young skiers whose service jobs or college schedules make spur-of-the-moment travel relatively easy.

Liftopia's ski-travel niche could be replicated in other markets. Country inns, local restaurants and golf courses might all lend themselves to the same approach. All it takes to build a business around any of these niches is the legwork to band together a group of related leisure businesses, plus a healthy dose of web-savvy. Imagine an avid golfer, for instance, surveying the list of prices at nearby links, then checking out each course's webcam to see how long the wait time would be at the first hole. (On a side note: Eye Spy Golf is mapping golf courses in the United States using Google Maps so that golfers can get a close look at links in any state.)

Website: www.liftopia.com Contact: info@liftopia.com

Spotted by: Bill McMahon