Original Post

September 17th, 2010

As I mentioned yesterday, my curiosity surrounding resorts use (or lack) of Liftopia has been insatiable: until today.

I finally had a chance to swap emails with Liftopia co-founder Evan Reece. Right off the bat I knew that Liftopia ain’t no kiddie website just trying to make a few bucks. With a deep understanding of the industry and the financial ins-and-outs therein, here’s what Evan shared with me:

SlopeFillers: Give me the rundown on Liftopia. Where the idea came from, how long it’s been around, mission statement, etc.?
Evan: Liftopia was founded by myself and Ron Schneidermann who had worked at Hotwire.com. Essentially, we were thinking about going to Tahoe but it hadn’t snowed in a while. As skiers, we realized that had we had the option to buy tickets in advance at a discount, we would be likely to go, but otherwise wouldn’t. Travel companies help hotels/airlines/car rental companies in building a base of business in advance, and giving flexible customers incentive to ski more frequently. Essentially, we wanted to help ski resorts improve their profitability and give customers the ability to ski more frequently by trading risk for savings.

We founded the company in 2005, and launched in 2006 with a whopping 7 resort partners. This season we expect to have 150-200 resorts.

The core concept is to help ski resorts benefit from active revenue management and a central marketplace. Liftopia isnt about share shift from one resort to another, it is making skiing more appealing for folks who think it is too expensive, and helping people who love the sport get out there more frequently. All of this, without having the resorts have unrestricted discounts in the marketplace that dilute their business and are simply used to sell other things (groceries, memberships, gasoline, etc).

SlopeFillers: Impressive growth. Last I read, there were close to 500 resorts in the US. What fears, concerns, or issues do you feel are holding those other resorts back from partnering with Liftopia?
Evan: So current exact count is 471 :)

Some of the challenges we expected, the biggest being the fact that we do business in a very new and different way than they are used to. What we didn’t estimate, is how often resorts are hit up by “lifestyle” businesses that come and go, often without fulfilling promises, without paying, and in general by folks just looking to get hooked up for free. Being in leisure, ski resorts are hit up left and right by folks trying to make money off of them, the reason we are growing is that we make money for them, not off of them like most programs in the past.

The big question any resort asks is “is Liftopia incremental”, aka, are we driving increased business or simply taking existing customers and bringing them in at a discount. The good news, is that now that we have been around for a while, we have data to support that Liftopia increases both frequency and the likelihood that folks will try a new resort. Many resorts are also addicted to programs that drive large volume of low quality business, like discounts that are unrestricted and show up during peak periods. I mentioned this already, but most existing discounts are being used to sell other things, as opposed to the other way around. Since we only make money on the tickets we sell, we are never trying to use the resorts’ deals to sell something else (like advertising, memberships, fuel, groceries, ski rentals, etc).

The real question is whether a strategy is incremental, not whether a channel is incremental… and the big value that people trying to replicate our model don’t understand is that our pricing models, pricing tools, and distribution strategy (that the customers don’t even see) are why we are growing, not because we have a nifty website. Anyone can make a nice looking website, what Liftopia offers is a complete understanding of best practices in revenue management and distribution.

To loop back to your question here, there are very few real reasons why a resort shouldn’t try Liftopia (especially since they can back out at any time), however we have had to build up trust within the industry over the 5 years we have sold tickets.

SlopeFillers: I had a funny feeling you would know that number ;) Say I am a average sized resort on the East coast. I’ve never used Liftopia before and have just become a partner. What can I do to make the most of our partnership?
Evan: I think the answer to that is simply use the tools, data, and pricing options that Liftopia has to offer. That is sort of our secret sauce, but is a benefit that any partner gets access to when they work with us.

SlopeFillers: What do the next year and five years hold for Liftopia? What features to you plan to add and goals do you have for the company?
Evan: Liftopia wishes to continue to build a business that helps ski resorts most efficiently sell the things they have for sale. We aim to make the sport more approachable to beginners, while facilitating higher frequency for existing skiers. This industry has dealt with a fixed customer base for years, and by helping resorts price and sell effectively (while removing discounts that hurt their business) Liftopia hopes to grow a new generation of skiers and riders who buy in advance, and are happy with the value of the experience.

All resorts have to do is give us a call or shoot us a note, we can get them set up and selling tickets on our site in 15-20 minutes, at zero cost to them. And if they don’t like it, they can kick us to the curb whenever they want.