The Midwest and Northeastern regions of the US had very poor snow seasons in 2015-16 with near record high temperatures and record low snowfall. We have already documented where skiers went during a poor season, but we also wanted to look into what the regional demand trends look like heading into the 2016-17 season. Coming off of a poor season, how does search volume (our proxy for demand) look into the Northeast so far? Are the patterns different from last year when we were coming off a very solid 2014-15 Northeast snow season? How does this compare to a region like Lake Tahoe following a relatively strong season?
Analysis and Results
Not surprisingly, total search volume into the Northeast is down to date. Customers likely remember the most recent season very clearly, and aren’t eager to ski in those conditions again. You can see the drop in overall searches below. It is interesting to note that New England searches are down 27% year over year while NY, NJ, and PA searches are down only 7% year over year.
It starts to get a bit more interesting when you look into what dates customers are searching for in New England. As it turns out, searches are not uniformly down across all dates. There is an inflection point around Martin Luther King Weekend. Nearly all dates prior to the mid-January holiday have more searches in the 2015-16 season than in the 2016-17 season. After MLK weekend, the reverse occurs. Nearly every date has more searches in the 2016-17 season than in the 2015-16 season, despite the fact that overall searches are down year over year in the Northeast.
To put it simply, customers are searching more for dates later in the season, possibly due to the fear that early season conditions won’t be good based on their memory of last season. This is what I call the “hangover effect” of a bad season.
How does the Northeast compare to the Lake Tahoe region, which is coming off a strong season after four years of drought? The Lake Tahoe region is up 48% in searches year over year. But, unlike the uneven Northeast search trends shown above, the growth in Lake Tahoe searches is more even throughout the season. Nearly every date of the season has shown growth.
In conclusion, the “hangover effect” appears to be real. Regions that are coming off poor seasons tend to see a decline in early-season searches, but an increase in later season searches. Pre MLK weekend is hit relatively hard with lower demand across the board. Post-MLK weekend periods actually see an increase in demand, with most customers waiting and banking on better conditions later in the season. This is not to say that the skiers won’t show up for the holidays this season, just that they are showing some reluctance to commit until they see some of the white stuff, or at least the cold temps.
It is critical to have an advance purchase strategy in place that takes the lower demand into account. Based on the analysis here, I believe that driving the same level of revenue today compared to this time last year is likely to require a pricing strategy that starts with lower price points, all else held equal.
Just like an alcohol induced hangover, skiers and snowboarders are nervous about going back to the hair of the dog too soon!
The good news is with the recent snow across the US and Canada Mother Nature appears to be laying the groundwork for a cold and snowy 2016-17 season.