Rob Katz is the CEO of Vail Resorts. Vail is my home mountain and how I ended up in Colorado. (I’ll save that story for another day.) Vail Resorts is the premier mountain resort in the world. Vail Resort mountain properties include; Vail, Beaver Creek, Heavenly, Northstar at Tahoe, Breckenridge and Keystone. Vail Resorts also owns Rock Resorts.
I wanted to interview Rob because he is a progressive thinker. Rob’s vision has positioned Vail Resorts as the leader in social media, guest engagement and customer experience. Rob’s leadership has created an innovative culture in an industry traditionally not known for innovation. I asked Rob to share his thoughts on Social Media, Sales and Leadership. Enjoy!
How has social media changed the way you approach sales and marketing at Vail Resorts? Why?
More and more people these days are using social media to share their experiences online and it gives consumers access to real time information they never had before. At Vail Resorts, we’ve adjusted our marketing strategy to be more nimble and flexible than in the past so we can better serve the needs of our guests from offering relevant packages, information and communication that reflect real-time events and conversations in the social media realm.
Vail Resorts traditionally would advertise in long lead print magazines which required us to commit to an ad four to six months in advance. However, now that our guests are accessing more of their information in real time and making travel decisions in a shorter timeframe, what was relevant six months ago may not be relevant today.
Two years ago, we reduced 80 percent of our long-lead print advertising spend and shifted it online, which allowed us to be more nimble and get the right message to our guests in a rapidly changing economy. With the advent of social media, we could no longer afford to do business the way we have in the past.
Social media has also enhanced our ability to get messages directly to our most loyal guests. Through Facebook and Twitter we can engage our guests and deliver real-time messages to them about what’s going on at our resorts. This could be information on the latest offers and packages to snow reports, events, etc. Our marketing and public relations teams work hand-in-hand on weekly basis to respond to our guests’ needs and what’s going on in the marketplace to adjust our communications messaging and make it the most relevant and engaging as possible.
Additionally, social media allows us to use more video to engage our customers. Video, or “ski porn” as we like to call it, has always helped us sell the experience at our resorts, from those epic powder skiing shots to events in our villages and people enjoying time on the beach in our warm weather destinations. With social media, we now can easily deliver video right to our guests through multiple social channels including Facebook, Twitter, Email, Vail Resorts websites and more.
How has the Internet changed the expectation of guests and customers?
Our guests are making their decisions in real time causing our booking windows to shorten considerably. It’s critical for us to be more responsive and have the right offers and packages in place at the right time in order to best serve the needs of our guests. Since the recession, we’ve seen the booking window for people planning their vacations shrink drastically. Our guests used to plan their vacations four to six months in advance and we’ve seen this shrink to less than a month in some instances.
Providing the best experience for our guests when they vacation at our resorts is paramount to us. We monitor social media channels to address customer service issues, feedback and trends. Social media allows us to identify and immediately respond to our guests at our resorts and fine-tune or introduce new products and services.
Additionally, this year, Vail Resorts announced a new online and mobile application, called EpicMix, to enhance the guest ski and snowboard experience this season that that incorporates the Internet and social media. EpicMix allows Vail Resorts guests, at any of our resorts to effortlessly and seamlessly utilize technology to digitally capture their ski and ride experience and share it with friends and family.
EpicMix is a digital application that guests can access online, at their computer or via a free mobile application that can be downloaded for the iPhone, Android or other smart phone. EpicMix automatically captures the activity of guests throughout each of its resorts, by leveraging Vail Resorts’ state-of-the-art radio frequency (RF) scanners that are being installed at all of the 89 lifts across our five mountain resorts. An RF-enabled chip embedded in Vail Resorts season passes and PEAKS lift tickets will automatically track guests’ lift rides, calculating vertical feet skied and days on the mountain, and will recognize special achievements and accomplishments by granting guests commemorative, collectible digital pins. EpicMix will have hundreds of available digital pins for a multitude of unique experiences available at each resort.
EpicMix is accessible to everyone, not just those already familiar with social media and at the end of the day you can log onto www.epicmix.com to check out what you accomplished during your ski day and you can also install the application on your mobile phone and connect your activities to Facebook and Twitter to share your ski experience with your friends online and alert them to where you are skiing on the mountain.
Skiing and snowboarding have always been about sharing your experiences on the mountain and talking with friends and family the great runs you took or remembering a powder day. EpicMix marries the very real “social” experience of skiing and riding with the fun and sense of sharing created by location-based social media, making it accessible to everyone.
What’s the worse thing a sales and marketing organization can do in today’s world that they didn’t have to think about 10-20 years ago?
Ignore what’s going on in social media and what your customers are saying about your company or brand online and in social forums.
As the head of an organization that purchases a lot of things, what’s the best way for a sales person to get access to you?
Getting access to me isn’t what’s important. I’d recommend finding the right person at our company that’s responsible for the purchasing decisions for the product the sales person is selling.
What’s something sales people do you wish they didn’t?
When they come in and act like they know more about your business than you do and don’t take the time to listen and understand your business objectives.
What’s something sales people don’t do, you wish they did?
It’s important to find the right people in the Company to talk to and not simply default to me. I empower my senior management team to make decisions about which products and services to employ in order to meet their department’s or division’s business objectives. Also, do your homework. With the amount of information about a Company or brand that can be found online, there’s no excuse not to research as much as you can and be up to speed on what the Company is doing and what’s important to them. Start by following the Company and its brands through social media, on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
What do you see as trends down the road as far as travel and social media?
People have always enjoyed sharing stories about their travel adventures with friends and family. With new social media applications, it’s getting easier and easier to do that. I think we will continue to see an even greater integration of technology into the vacation experience, to help people capture their special moments. The travel companies that find ways to do that, without intruding on a guests’ time away, will have great opportunities to build terrific guest loyalty.
Rob not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. He is very active on Twitter. You can find him under @RickysRidge