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Jasper’s Marmot Basin king of the marketing hill

Marmot Basin and Tourism Jasper took home prestigious provincial tourism industry awards at the end of October.

Members of the Tourism Jasper and Marmot Basin team posed for a group photo at the ALTO awards in Banff on Oct. 23. | Photo submitted.

by Craig Gilbert | publisher@fitzhugh.ca

Marmot Basin was looking to get more people slip sliding away on their slopes, so they found a way to cut the cost in half.

Sounds simple enough, right? Exactly right.

The marketing team at Jasper’s ski and snowboard destination knocked it so far out of the park with their Marmot Escape Card last season it could be seen from space, or at least high enough over Alberta that their peers in the province’s tourism industry took notice.

They won the top tier marketing excellence award ($50,000+) at the Alto Awards at the 17th annual Travel Alberta Industry Conference in Banff last month.

Brian Rode, Marmot’s vice president of marketing, told the Fitzhugh on the way back from the ceremony last week that his team was looking for a new program that would keep people coming to the mountains despite the rocky state of the economy.

There’s a lot more to it than simply offering half price lift tickets to skiers and snowboarders who shell out $75 for an Escape Card membership, but the key to its success was the simplicity presented to the client.

It’s easy sometimes to make things complex, but it’s fairly complex sometimes to make things simple,” Rode said. “Just offer half price lift tickets, no blackouts, valid every single day all season long. That’s really easy to understand.”

Marmot partnered with local hotels who rang up decent discounts on the weekend and up to half-off mindblowers mid-week throughout the ski season, and with Edmonton’s four active ski areas who honoured the card there as well.

“It was a true partnership, between Marmot Basin, the Edmonton ski areas and the Jasper hotels and that’s what really made it impactful for skiers especially in the city,” he said. “We found a number of people that bought the card used it at the Edmonton ski areas long before they made it to the mountains, so it worked for everybody.”

He said the initial reaction as seen through chatter on social media included posts like ‘is this for real?’ and ‘what’s the catch?’ with their local pals or other friends responding, ‘I checked it out, it’s legit.’

They got the word out with a robust multi-pronged marketing program, including everything from billboards to newspapers, television and radio.

Rode heaped credit on April Callow, the ski hill’s former longtime graphic designer for shaping what the whole program looked like, and on the company’s president, Dave Gibson, for taking the idea to the stakeholders and selling it – after keeping Rode on tenterhooks for about 60 silent seconds in his office while he processed the pitch, of course.

“They took a risk on this,” Rode said. “This is their money we’re dealing with, and they supported it. We wouldn’t have been able to go ahead with it without their support. It took the whole team to take this idea and implement and execute it well and service the customers when they come. It was a lot of work.”

Subhead: Powering down

Tourism Jasper may not be visible from space, but the team members there, including general manager James Jackson and veteran marketing manager Myriam Bolduc, are more concerned with the vice versa.

They were in Banff, too, to receive the Tourism Event or Festival award for the Dark Sky Festival, which just wrapped up its seventh.

Jeff Bartlett photo

Dark Sky beat out finalists Badlands Amp Festival (Badlands Amphitheatre) and the Drumheller Big Valley Jamboree (Camrose).

It feels amazing,” Bolduc said. “We’re really thrilled because it’s a great honour to be recognized within the industry. We’ve been working really hard over the last seven years to make it an international attraction and I think we’ve reached that point. The future looks really bright, too, we have so many ideas to move it forward and expand the festival so it’s very rewarding to bring this award home.”

Dark sky visitation grew steadily after the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) designated the park as a dark sky preserve in 2001.

“October being the shoulder season, it’s the perfect time to create visitation in Jasper and that’s what we’ve been able to achieve,” Bolduc continued. “This year and last we were over 80 per cent occupancy for the two core weekends, so we’re bringing a lot of business to Jasper.”

Jackson said depending on who you ask, occupancy for the same period seven years ago was in the 40 per cent range.

“So in that time it’s doubled,” he said. “The festival isn’t the only contributing factor to that, but I think it’s a large portion of that success. A lot of credit really has to go to the community for jumping on board and embracing the festival. Although Tourism Jasper quote unquote produces it, the community contributes a ton of time, effort and capital to making it a really large success.”

Peripheral events that for some have become synonymous with the two-week festival enhance the experience. Bolduc mentioned the symphony under the stars nights at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, sold out until 2020 and the Jasper Planetarium, which had dark sky programming all month including star sessions at the top of Whistlers in conjunction with the Jasper SkyTram (which Rode and the Marmot marketing team have more than a little to do with, in case you’re playing along at home).

“I couldn’t be prouder,” Jackson said. “Not a lot of people see what goes on behind the scenes but I see the team here first thing in the morning before 8 o’clock and I see them here in the evenings well after five, on the weekends working, so it’s really rewarding to be able to have them acknowledged for that. It’s really special – not to mention the contribution from the entire community. It goes to show that it’s a collaborative effort and it isn’t just a one-person show.”

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