As the weather gets colder and resorts ready for the coming ski season, Liftopia, a San Francisco-based resort technology platform and ski ticket purveyor, aims to make travel planning easier for those itching to hit the slopes this winter. This year, the company is offering consumers a ski industry first – a tiered pricing system that offers travel booking options that will appeal to a wide range of travelers from those looking to book exact dates to those who want unlimited date changes throughout the season.
This is all part of making the travel booking process easier and, in effect, opens up skiing to as wide an audience as possible, Liftopia’s Co-Founder and CEO Evan Reece told FoxNews.com.
“We are launching the largest price innovation that customers have seen since we’ve launched the company,” Reece said. “What we have is different price points for different types of customers based on how much they want to spend and how much they want to save.”
For the coming season, the travel booking company is offering a “Value” option that provides non-refundable and non-changeable date-specific lift tickets that offers savings up to 85 percent off “walk-up window rates,” a “Value Plus” package that provides a one-time date change per season, and the “Flexible” package, which is exactly what it sounds like – a flexible option that unlimited date changes for the entire season.
The company has humble origins — Reece worked out of his closet in the business's early days. Reece and co-founder Ron Schneiderman met in 2005 when they both worked at Hotwire.com. Both avid skiers, the two saw an unfilled niche in the ski tourism industry. While the tech boom of the early 2000s saw the emergence of multiple booking sites for hotels and flights, there was nothing geared specifically to the lucrative ski industry. According to the Snow Sports Industries of America (SIA), there were over 56 million ski visits in the U.S. for the 2012/2013 season alone. For Reece, who has been skiing since he was 11 years old, it was important to make travel bookings for skiers and resorts as easy as possible.
“It’s all about making this more and more accessible,” he said. “We had started with a consumer brand and helped resorts price to a broader audience. E-commerce for ski back in the day just didn’t exist. What we saw firsthand, was this inevitable shift from resorts moving from window sales to selling online and moving from static price points to dynamic pricing like other industries.”
Reece found the ski tourism industry functioning in a very antiquated way. He said that it was very much like how airlines used to operate with consumers physically visiting an airport and having to choose from flights that were all priced exactly the same.
After filling this travel industry void, Reece’s company has grown quickly. Since 2005, Liftopia has been the ski industry’s answer to online travel sites like Travelocity. Starting out with only seven resort partners, Liftopia now works with over 250 resorts in North America to provide novice and seasoned skiers alike a hub to schedule their trips. Users can purchase lift tickets, buy meal vouchers, and even rent out equipment from the site. On the other end of things, the company streamlines the booking process for resorts, too, by providing cloud-based technology that gives them access to data-driven analytics to best answer consumer demands. Additionally, Reece’s company assists resorts to incorporate variable pricing models directly into their websites.
The CEO said that making trip planning more accessible online is a way to ensure the sport’s continued growth.
“For us, you have to get more folks out on the slopes and get people who really love the sport to ski that extra five days,” Reece said.
Given Liftopia’s expansion over the past nine years – during the heavy ski season, it will employ about 68 staffers – will the company expand beyond North America?
Reece said that is a possibility. He visited Switzerland and Austria during a market research trip last spring to assess whether Liftopia’s model could work beyond the U.S. and Canada. Reece said that research shows “there is an opportunity in Europe,” but that it is important his company “works for people in this market before we spread ourselves too thin.”
“At the end of the day, it’s all about showing how accessible skiing can be,” Reece added. “The main goal was to make the travel experience better, and now we are trying to employ that same innovation to bringing as many people to the ski experience as possible. It hadn’t happened before. It’s always pretty nice to be the first.”