How Vail Resorts Uses IT to Profile Skiiers

The chief marketing officer of US-based ski resort talks about her relationship with the CIO and need for IT

Kirsten Lynch, CMO at US-based Vail Resorts, talks to Martha Heller about how a partnership with the CIO leads to better guest experiences.

How is Vail Resorts using technology to help guests with vacation planning?

For years, we've had a CRM system that gives us basic demographic and behavioural data. But this year, we've taken it to the next level, where we understand and can categorise our customers' attitudes. Skiing is such a passion-based business that we need to go beyond basic data to understanding why our guests come to the mountain.

We have the "Alpine A-Listers," who are hard-core about skiing and also passionate about the luxury experience. Then there are the "Village Sophisticates," who tend to care more about dining, shopping and spas than skiing. The "Shred Heads" care only about getting to the mountain and making the most of their ski day--it's not about luxury for them.

For each segment, we know how many days they ski a year, where they ski and what they spend their money on. We then gear our messaging to each group.

How do these personas affect the trip-planning experience?

At some point, our guests call us to book their vacation. We are piloting some new technology that pre-populates the agent's screen with everything we know about our guests. Because we know a guest's motivation, we can personalise what we talk to them about.

What are you doing with social media?

Three years ago we launched EpicMix, an application that allows our guests to track statistics on their devices, including which resorts they've been to, their total vertical feet accomplishments and their speed on certain runs. Skiing is all about coming down to the lodge and trading stories. We are bringing that heritage into the 21st century.

Once EpicMix had been in use for a year, we wanted to engage more people, so we stationed photographers all over our mountains. Guests can ski up to a photographer, who scans their ticket and takes a photo of them--or of their friends and family elsewhere on the mountain. The photos go to their EpicMix account, and they can share them on social media.

That requires a good relationship between marketing and IT. How do you achieve that?

Our CIO, Robert Urwiler, and I view our relationship as a partnership. We are always in each other's office, brainstorming new ideas and talking about problems. On critical projects, we meet weekly with our teams. If there are issues or trade-offs to address, Robert and I are right there in the room.

What advice would you give CIOs on partnering with their CMOs?

When an idea comes out of marketing, some IT leaders will first jump to potential hurdles. My advice would be to start with what's possible; that makes a huge difference to me.

What is next in the way of technology innovation at Vail?

We've just launched One Pass, where we use customer information to move our guests quickly through the ticket-buying, ski-rental and ski-school processes. I expect One Pass to be transformational: When we can keep customers from waiting in line or filling out paperwork, we are delivering on our mission of creating an experience of a lifetime.

Martha Heller is president of executive recruiting firm Heller Search Associates and author of The CIO Paradox. Follow her on Twitter:@marthaheller.

Read more about customer relationship management (crm) in CIO's Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Drilldown.

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