In a nutshell:In 2007, Vail Resorts began embedding RFID chips into its passes so it could more quickly and easily check tickets at airlifts. The single- and multi-day ski passes, which are issued at Vail's five resorts, are automatically picked up by special readers at the platform, allowing skiers to more quickly board the lift. In recent years, Vail Resorts expanded its RFID capabilities to be more interactive and engaging through an app called EpicMix.
New feature: Through EpicMix, the smart passes can track a skier's progress by calculating run speeds, lift trips, vertical feet skied and the number of ski days. Vail visitors can access this information by logging into a personalized account on EpicMix.com. The app also includes a gamification component that encourages guests to compete with friends and family, view accomplishments on a personalized dashboard and win virtual prizes for certain achievements, such as completing ski lessons or reaching several peaks. Vail guests can share these achievements by synching them with their social media accounts, which in turn can reveal which social media friends also are at the resort.
Lastly, the resort extends the features of the program in two additional ways: On-site photographers equipped with RFID readers can shoot pictures of visitors in action and post them on the visitor's secure EpicMix account to be personally retrieved (and possibly shared) later; and Vail also provides the option of linking a credit card to the pass so that guests don’t have to fumble for cash when grabbing that much-needed coffee to warm up on a cold day. In fact, all the food service venues on the mountain accept this as a form of payment, providing convenience and the added benefit of tracking where customers use these services across the resort.
The Takeaways: While not a formal loyalty program, Vail smart passes and the EpicMix app accomplish the same goal as loyalty initiatives: they engage and encourage the consumer to explore other services and products. I know this firsthand — I just returned from vacation at Vail and this was our second time using the smart passes.
The combination of physical and experiential rewards (through information, photographs, social media and games) ensures a guest will appreciate and get involved with at least one component of the initiative. After a guest engages with one of the smart pass features, he or she will likely explore the next. And this leads to the ultimate value — the data — which in turn supports the kind of business decisions that would determine where to upgrade services, whether they be the ski lifts or the food service operations.
Which leads to the key issue of privacy. Vail has that covered too. It does not share any guest information unless the guest opts in and specifically chooses to share his or her information. Guests also can disable the RFID chips in their passes to prevent scanning. As for kids, children under 14 have access to a limited selection of features and can connect only to their parents' accounts.
Vail's ascent to EpicMix may have been measured, but the time was well spent on thoughtful features and execution. And its success is likely well monitored. Disney adopted similar technology with its MagicBand RFID bracelets a year ago. I expect other vacation spots will follow.
/ Bryan Pearson is President and CEO of LoyaltyOne Inc. and the author of the best-selling book The Loyalty Leap: Turning Customer Information into Customer Intimacy.