Q and A with GoBreck’s Lucy Kay
After spending decades working at various high-level marketing positions in Summit County’s resort industry, Lucy Kay’s career path recently took a detour.
On April 15, 2014, Kay took over as president of GoBreck, the Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), for the town of Breckenridge. Kay grew up in Pittsburgh where she received a degree in economics from University of Pittsburgh. She has a graduate degree in international business.
Kay moved to Summit in the early 1980s. She spent a decade at Copper Mountain doing marketing, public relations and real estate. She later transitioned to Breckenridge Ski Resort and saw it change ownership several times until Vail Resorts ultimately purchased it, giving her a lot of experience at dealing with revolving-door management and transitions. She left the resort just a couple years ago as its Chief Operating Officer. Then she started a consulting company dealing primarily with small-scale nonprofit organizations. After serving as a trustee with the Summit Foundation for seven years, she wanted to find ways to apply her skill set to nonprofits. Then one day she received a phone call.
Why were you interested in working for GoBreck?
I wasn’t really thinking at first that this was something I wanted to do. But then I realized the Resort Chamber had gone through this major transition to a DMO. Helping the organization go from one place to another was very interesting to me. And I’m committed to Breckenridge.
How would you describe what GoBreck does?
It’s a DMO which means we are contracted by the town of Breckenridge to the destination marketing for the town. Our job is out in the marketplace and bringing people here. And once the people are here it’s up to the business community to get their fair share, and we will help them to some extent, but it’s not our job to do marketing for each individual business. We can provide them some tools to help them stay in front of trends. Our role is bringing people here, and delivering a good experience has to happen in the business community and resort. And then that guest belongs to that business. Their information is in the database. Then it’s our job to go out and get the next one, open up the next new market.
What are the best tools to help bring these new customers in?
We are huge proponents of fact-based decision making. So we spend a good amount of money on market research so we have very good demographic information of who’s visiting. We have good information in terms of our brand perception in the marketplace. Social media has been a huge tool in helping us communicate without pushing. Our brand lives in the mind of our customers, what Breckenridge means to them, and we can see that. A lot of our customers use Expedia for instance. We can push relevant content to Expedia so they see us as a place to come ski or stay in the summer when they visit that site.
How did you end up in Summit County?
I was on my way to Los Angeles because it was as far from Pittsburgh as I could imagine at the time. But I ran out of money, and a friend mentioned that if you run out of money just go get a ski resort job in Summit County. My first job here I worked on a construction crew. I helped build the current employee housing at Keystone. I never thought then that I would ever stay here for a long time. I still wanted to live in California. Then, at age 26 I got offered the HR director job at Copper Mountain. You don’t get offered jobs like that at 26 so I stayed and worked. I landed here by accident and just never left.
How has the tourism and marketing industry changed since you’ve been working in it?
It’s certainly changed in volume and in the sophistication level of our customers. They travel a lot and they have pretty high expectations. I’ve seen the resorts and the business community rise to meet those expectations. And they continue to do that. You never really finish with that.
The sophistication of marketing has changed a lot as well. What we know about our customers and how we can serve up the information about them was not possible when I first started. Back then in marketing we just made something up, threw it out there and hope it worked.
Appreciation for quality of life has also changed. In the past decade especially people are wanting quality experiences rather than stuff. And that’s what we do. We deliver an experience.
How has social media affected tourism and marketing?
The ability to collect so much more data on customers has not just helped resorts in terms of marketing, but the economy as a whole. With social media the consumer is doing a lot of the work for us. A friend recommending something is going to be much more persuasive than an ad you see somewhere.
In social media, when there is a complaint, lots of loyal people jump in there and correct. The consumer, the marketplace, kind of corrects itself.
Breck is poised for such success because of its authenticity. Because in this type of modern marketplace if you’re not who you say you are, it’s going to be revealed all over the place now.
Why has the local resort industry experienced recent record numbers?
Last year we had an epic year for snowfall, and that always has something to do with the numbers. Breckenridge resort also opened Peak 6. Anytime you expand you will always get a bump in business. And with increasingly sophisticated ways to market we just get better at getting the word out to the right people at the right time. That allows us to fill those periods when it’s a little slower with a different kind of clientele.
How did your prior industry experience prepare you for GoBreck?
It’s a blend. Most of my experience has been in the private sector and the corporate world. There are a lot of resources and analytics available to you there. Then in the nonprofit and public sector, especially the nonprofit sector, it is a lot different as far as resources. You have to get by with a lot less resources and a lot less sophisticated information. You have to rely more on your experience and your gut more. When it works it’s more rewarding because it means more. Here at GoBreck it’s a blend because it’s not a small nonprofit and it does have some sophisticated resources. But it’s still certainly not funded like it is in the corporate world. We are also mission driven here, not revenue driven. We are working for the entire business community.
What do you see for the future of tourism in Breckenridge?
I think there is nothing but upside in Breckenridge. The ski resort is very successful and will continue to be so. The town is very successful. There are a lot of resort communities who look to us to see how we do it. And the new cultural arts district is having a soft opening Sept. 25. That’s a whole other layer we’ve added as far as experiences. I think it might ultimately draw a different kind of crowd than we see here today. We never stop improving. That’s why so many of us who have been here a long time continue to stay. It’s always getting better. We don’t settle for status quo here.
What’s the secret to selling Breckenridge?
I think it’s the authenticity of the town. It is a national historic district. And it’s the authenticity and the genuine goodness of the people. We didn’t have to create a marketing brand. We are just reflecting what it is. People come and it’s even better than they thought. When you go on vacation you interact with people. And it’s almost always a positive response.
I think the thing that fuels this place is passion. Skiers and snowboarders are dedicated and passionate people … You can go to places that look like this, have similar architecture, but it doesn’t feel the same.
What’s in store for the future of GoBreck?
We are about to start working on developing a five-year plan. It’s something that hasn’t been done here before. It can be the first time we will be really forward looking. We’ll set some long-term goals and figure out what this organization can look like and what kinds of other services we can become involved in five years down the road. We want to be an industry-leading DMO, and we’re already bubbling around that right now. The forward thinking gives everyone goals to shoot for. We definitely want to be a market leader.
What projection do you see for the winter?
I think we’re going to have a good season. Typically after a good snow year there is some residual benefit from that. The economy continues to get stronger and consumer confidence is coming back. The infrastructure in the town and the resort continues to get better. There is nothing but upside. People are ready to travel. The next thing we’ll tackle is trying to boost our international marketing for summer travelers.
Last year was such a banner year. I wouldn’t expect the same level of growth as last year because it was such a banner year. I expect us to keep growing on year-to-year basis but probably not at the same percentage as last year. Early booking trends look positive.
Can you take it easy now that we’re in the slow season?
This is when the marketing ramps up. The booking cycle is about 60 days. Normally when it’s down time for everyone else it’s time for us in marketing to work the most. When it comes to marketing there isn’t a down time. And with social media it’s a 24-hour marketplace. It doesn’t close.
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