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Ski Resort Hits E-Mail Trail

Canadian ski resort Whistler-Blackcomb is e-mailing talking snowflakes to northern California residents, aiming to get them spring skiing in the mountains outside Vancouver.

Handled by Young & Rubicam Advertising Inc., San Francisco, the customer acquisition e-mail effort will complement radio and Sunday newspaper ads and direct mail. The ski promotion targets one of Whistler-Blackcomb's most important feeder markets for a $655 spring door-to-door special offer.

“If they're going to book one more trip in the March-April period, instead of just going back to [Lake] Tahoe or wherever, consider Whistler because, quite frankly, the skiing is great in April, while here in northern California, it's kind of dead by then,” said John O'Meara, senior vice president and account managing director at Y&R.

Whistler and Blackcomb are said to be among North America's largest ski mountains, with more than 7,000 acres of terrain, a mile-high vertical and spring snow.

The e-mail features a 30-second online video starring two talking snowflakes. Walter, the snooty one, tells Bob that snowflakes are “miracles of nature, one of a kind. Let all humanity bow to our sublime magnificence.” Then a snowboarder runs them over.

The tag line reads, “7,000 acres of glorious snow just waiting to be mowed over. Live large.” Clicking on a link, www.tourismwhistler.com/snow, repeats the spot.

E-mail recipients can click not only to see the video but also to access the site at www.whistler-resort.com/spring to get details on the special offer and see the slopes through a live Webcam. Consumers can request a quote, book online or dial 1-800-Whistler.

“We have a feeling that most people who see the offer invariably are going to have at least one question or two — dates, for instance,” O'Meara said.

The first drop, sent last week, went to 15,000 to 20,000 consumers — qualified skiing enthusiasts whose names were rented from iBoost's and Free Skiier's lists. The drop also included 4,000 past visitors to Whistler-Blackcomb who opted in for updates.

A second wave of e-mails is expected this week.

“They've done a fair amount of research, and while a lot of folks in northern California are aware of Whistler, unfortunately a lot of skiers, just because of perceived costs and perceived distance, just don't really consider it,” O'Meara said. “Or they consider Whistler only after they consider all the nearby resorts in northern California.”

Major allures of spring skiing at Whistler-Blackcomb are the snow pack and the weather. Northern California ski slopes might show rocks and dirt in April.

The offer itself is competitive. For $655, a California resident gets round-trip airfare, five-night accommodations, a four-day lift ticket and round-trip ground transportation between Vancouver and Whistler. Applicable April 2 through June 10, the package is priced for flights starting from San Francisco. Los Angeles residents pay $55 extra.

Y&R was allotted an estimated $100,000 for the multimedia promotion, about 15 percent of which went toward e-mail.

“E-mail is getting, quite frankly, a small amount of money, but again we're pretty sure it's going to pull as well [as], maybe even beat out, both the other media types,” O'Meara said. He expects response to match or exceed the industry average of 3 percent.

Unlike in past efforts, this year the Internet will underpin all communications, especially in tracking.

“We also tagged our newspaper ads, hard-copy direct mail and e-mail with URLs, all with a slightly different tag on the end,” O'Meara said. “So what we hope to do is track the response and then also be able to track the response by medium, which is something that they've never done.”

A lot hinges on the outcome of the e-mail campaign.

“If it performs well, what we need to do is really start instilling in Whistler-Blackcomb the need to capture e-mail addresses of people that stay and visit Whistler, because then they can move entirely to an electronic direct marketing communications program,” O'Meara said.

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