Mountain Travel Symposium wraps up in Breckenridge |

Mountain Travel Symposium wraps up in Breckenridge

Lauren Glendenning
Copyrighted: Katie Girtman/
Copyrighted: Katie Girtman/ |

BRECKENRIDGE — Innovation and growth are the major takeaways from the 39th Mountain Travel Symposium Breckenridge this week, April 9-16 — and industry professionals came away with the understanding that one cannot happen without the other.

Innovation has been at the forefront of the symposium for years. Attendees remember when GoPro cameras were featured, or the time when new mobile applications that track vertical feet were introduced.

Over the last week in Breckenridge, the industry saw a few new items such as a sneak preview of Google Glass, but the innovation centered mostly around products and ideas not yet developed.

In the digital world, for example, resort destinations are looking for ways to drive traffic that results in business. Industry professionals heard a lot about how technology and data are driving targeted marketing campaigns like never before.

Representatives from the two biggest heavy hitters on the Web — Facebook and Google — talked about technology’s ability to drive revenue.

The new normal of media consumption looks like this: a person at home on the couch with the television on, with a tablet in his lap and a smartphone in his hand.

Consumption of digital media has now passed the average person’s time spent watching TV, Facebook’s United States Group Leader Erik Hawkins told the audience at Sunday’s forum.

“The last time that happened was in the 1950s, when TV overtook radio,” he said. “Maybe this happens once in a generation. … It means we have almost infinite choice, but choice is almost overwhelming because it doesn’t necessarily lead to better decisions.”

So as the Internet shifts to mobile, the question mountain travel professionals are asking themselves is how they can capitalize.

The digital space is challenging because competition is everywhere, sometimes even veiled as friendly collaboration. One example came when Vail Resorts Chief Executive Officer Rob Katz said he doesn’t understand how a site like Liftopia, which sells discounted lift tickets for resorts all over the country, could ever work for his business model in today’s digital age.

“Resorts have to realize that you’re pushing folks off your website and onto somebody else’s,” he said, adding that it gives customers the impression that they’re getting the better deal through Liftopia.

The Katz model, which he admits he copied from United Airlines, is to ensure that the lowest price for a Vail Resorts product found anywhere will be through a Vail Resorts website.

He commended Liftopia — its design, innovation and technology — but questioned how it can work to better the industry as a whole.

“In terms of a stand-alone site, where we’re training our guests to go to Liftopia to get the best deal, that I don’t think is in anyone’s long-term best interests,” he said.

Ski resorts as destinations

Resort operators came out of the symposium with many thoughts and ideas about what exactly is or should be in their long-term best interests. One obvious trend emerging from the discussions is the shift toward year-round destination business. With Vail Resorts leading the charge to add summer activities like mountain coasters and zip lines — the Forest Service announced Tuesday that those summer proposals can move forward — other resorts less inclined to develop such activities are wondering what they can do.

Jackson Hole Chief Marketing Officer Adam Sutner asked the question Monday whether resorts are aiming “too low with these roadside activities.”

Shannon Stowell, president of the Adventure Travel Trade Association, said there’s nothing wrong with activities like ziplines and coasters, however his organization is learning that people want more.

So-called adventure travel needs to meet two out of the following three criteria: Interaction with the environment, physical activity, and cultural exchange.

Trips that include all three, however, are creating a boom in the travel industry, he said.

Mountain resort professionals perked up when they heard Stowell mention that adventure also equals luxury — those who want adventure travel also want luxury, meaning they’re willing to pay for it and have the ability to do so.

Culture is where mountain resorts seem to fall short. Culture has to go beyond just concerts in the park, he said.

“In the United States, people don’t take culture seriously enough,” Stowell said. “I feel like we absolutely under-represent culture in the United States in general. We have something to offer. We are different than anywhere else.”

The discussion quickly shifted to collaboration with surrounding raft, fishing, biking and other business operators. Those who work together on a marketing message to sell not only the resort, but the entire destination, will succeed in mountain adventure travel, he said.

The status quo in the mountain travel industry simply isn’t working, and the symposium brought that challenge front and center. With creative thinking about ways to grow — be it through interactive terrain for beginners or through adventure travel or targeted digital marketing strategies — industry professionals leave Breckenridge this week with a lot of work to do.

Lauren Glendenning is the editorial projects manager for Colorado Mountain News Media. She can be reached at or 970-777-3125.

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