CNBC: Liftopia Lets You Trade a Little Risk for a Good Deal
12/19/2012 by Brian A. Shactman, Jessica Golden
In many parts of the country, the holiday season means more than presents, family and heavy eating.
It also means that it's ski season.
Resorts can't control the weather, but there is an online site that can better help them control their business — and even hedge their naked exposure to Mother Nature.
Liftopia allows for advanced ticket sales through its website at a discount — sometimes up to 85-percent. The resort locks in revenue, and the skier gets a great deal. The only catch is that there are no refunds for customers if the weather is bad or if there's no snow.
CEO & Co-Founder Evan Reece explained the company's goal was to help resorts run their businesses more efficiently by giving consumers an incentive to buy in advance.
"Obviously, a subset of the population will want to see if there is fresh snow out there, but the industry will benefit from focusing on advanced purchase," Reece said. "They are no longer tied to the weather and snow as they were previously."
This is especially important when you consider last ski season. Low snowfall totals and unseasonably warm temperatures translated into a ski industry that was down about 20 percent.
More than 250 resorts across North America, including Steamboat, Winter Park, Jackson Hole and Sun Valley, are signed up with Liftopia in an effort to modernize how lift tickets are sold.
Analysts at Credit Suisse believe this large and untapped market has enormous potential to drive revenue by better analyzing consumer data and encouraging skiers to book early.
"It's a much bigger market than people think," Reece said. "There are about 60 million skier visits in the U.S. every year. For perspective, there are more skier visits in the U.S. every year than there are game attendees in the NFL, NHL and NBA combined."
In its seventh year, the Liftopia model seems to be working. Resorts using it saw an increase revenue last year, despite an industry-wide decline.
"We've had to prove what we're doing is fundamentally good for business," Reece said. "The resorts that used our technology last year substantially beat the market."
The company anticipates that bookings could reach between $30 million and $60 million for this upcoming ski season, and hopes that its market share grows from last year when just over 1 percent of all lift tickets were bought through Liftopia.
Wedding photographer Rich Bianrosa is a repeat customer who was drawn to Liftopia because of the great deals. So far, the 32-year-old's gamble with weather has paid off. During his trips, it was cold and there was lots of snow. But he said he hedges his bets by not booking too far in advance.