Eight Lessons and Tactics for a Successful Quantity-Based Ticket Sale

We do ski destination marketing for SkiBig3 and our typical campaigns follow a tick-tock model where we alternate between deadline-driven package sales and lift-ticket flash sales. It  works really well, but we have a long season that runs through May and once Easter passes, demand just plummets even though we still have about two months left of skiing.

This post-Easter lull creates an opportunity where we can experiment and try new things without failure hurting our bottom line.

So, this season I decided we should try a quantity-based sale. We’ve been on Inntopia’s YieldView (with Spotlio’s skin on top) for two years and have been very happy with its ability to sell lift tickets, but we haven’t had a chance to take advantage of all of YieldView’s features. Last year, we had a post-Easter flash sale (e.g. 20% off ticket rates for about five days) and it did meh compared to our typical flash sales, so this year, I thought, “Why not try a quantity-based sale?” instead.

Choosing a Model

We looked at various ways we could run a quantity-based sale before deciding to keep it simple and try selling 300 two-day, midweek lift tickets at 30% off. We also put a bunch of weekend tickets at 25% off (this is relevant later).

In the end, the sale was a grab bag of successes and lessons: we doubled the quantity of tickets sold compared to a sale at the same time the previous year, but revenue was flat because we went with two-day lift tickets instead of a variety of longer, multi-day tickets. We also didn’t see all 300 of our tickets, for reasons that you’ll see below.

There are lots of ways to do a quantity sale, but keeping it simple trumps all.

Before we started working on the messaging, we realized that with a quantity-based sale there were a variety of models we could try. Here are some we thought up:

Model 1 – Singular
One product type, deep discount, limited quantity: e.g. 200 two-day lift ticket at 35% off.

Model 2 – Lure
A deep discount on small number of tickets, good discount on a larger amount of tickets: e.g. 10 tickets a day at 40% off, 100 at 30% off three-day, 100 at 25% off.

Model 3 – Staggered
Limited products (e.g. two- or three- day) and staggered discounts, e.g. 30 tickets at 40% off, 40 tickets at 30 % off, 60 tickets at 25% off…those purchasing first get the best deal, those coming in late still get something.

Model 4 – Easter Egg Hunt
Similar to Model 2, each day over a period of time you seed your calendar with some deeply discounted tickets. This sounded good as a promotion in the week before Easter, but once the seed is gone, is there any value from a business perspective?

Lessons Learned

In the end, we went for the singular deep discount model, mainly because it kept the marketing message simple, which leads to our next point.

Lesson 1 – New sale, new messaging. Keep it simple.

Selling a product in a new way requires new messaging. Our booking deadline and flash sale ads were so dialed in over the years that we forgot how hard it can be to come up with a refined message for a new type of offer.

Check out the evolution of the sidebar ad for our YieldView page:

Lesson 2 – Date-based tickets complicate things.
If you’re like us and sell tickets that are valid starting a certain date, then you need to spread those tickets across a bunch of days, which means you must steer your customers to where the savings are, and that’s not always easy to do.

Lesson 3 – Age-based tickets complicate things, too.
Now throw in adult, senior, youth, and other rates and suddenly you’ve got a complex product matrix to manage for a sale.  

Lesson 4 – Booking lead time should inform quantity.
It’s nice to say “We want to sell 300 tickets to make $60,000″ but if you put those 300 tickets in a six-week booking window and nobody is buying beyond the two week mark, it’s not going to work as expected; your urgency won’t match your yield. Since lead time drops significantly at the end of the season, we should have made sure our inventory was scattered well within that period. We didn’t, and we had to claw back un-purchased tickets as a result.

Lesson 5 – Adjust to demand.
Inevitably, some dates will be more popular than others (usually grouping around earliest dates and weekends). It makes sense that as these sell out (or get close to selling out), that you shift some of your remaining inventory to meet demand. Be prepared to be flexible.

Lesson 6 – Price can direct customers toward purchasing weekday tickets.
This might seem obvious, but we’d never tried it before. Our tickets were always priced the same throughout the season, regardless of weekends, weekdays, or holidays. For this promotion, even though we offered a reasonable 25% off on weekends, purchasers were driven towards the deeper 30% savings on weekday tickets that was in our messaging.

Lesson 7 – You can be as precise or as vague as you want to be.
A lesson learned from the Mountain Collective. Maybe you put too many tickets out there – 300 instead of 150 means you’ve exceeded demand – and now you want to get rid of them. Well, you could say, “Only 150 tickets left!” and really hope someone buys those last tickets, but, you could instead say, “Almost Gone!” to really drive that last bit of urgency.

Lesson 8 – Be careful what you sell.
Compared to the sale we did the previous year at the same time, our quantity was up 100%, but our sale revenue was flat because we went with two-day lift tickets when the previous sale sold multi-day tickets up to and including eight days.

Final Thoughts

If I were to do it again, I’d go for a four- or five-day lift ticket. Those cheap-flight sites have changed how people plan their vacations and we can do the same thing with lift tickets. People will plan their ski trip around a good deal.

We learned a lot with this little experiment, and now we have an ace up our sleeve that we can use next season if we have a month that’s under performing.

Given the short lead time at the end of the season, a quantity-based sale makes a lot of sense; however, what really makes sense to me is to make sure the dates you seed are in a very tight window, maybe just a week. Then you can do the sale any time you want, in the season which makes the deal easier for the visitor to find, and the inventory easier for you to manage.


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