A Product for Every Season – North Lake Tahoe

When Gate 7 first began working with North Lake Tahoe, they were a small voice in the long-haul market competing with bigger outdoor snow adventure destinations like Japan and Canada because Australians didn’t know the breadth of opportunity in North Lake Tahoe, or California in general.

In order to generate awareness and put North Lake Tahoe on the map for Australians, Gate 7 undertook a deep analytic dive into their product distribution with an eye toward expansion. This would ultimately become the first step in a multi-year product distribution initiative that would see the destination not only band together with other regional operators to put a new collective (California Snow) in front of travel trade, it would see the destination grow from a snow and ski specialist to a year-round destination boasting an astounding 620% growth in product listings and a 99.5% increase of in-destination spending from the Australian market over four years.

North Lake Tahoe was able to create a 620% increase in product distributed through Australian travel trade

Background and challenge

California’s Lake Tahoe, the U.S.’s largest alpine lake, is known today as a year-round outdoor adventure Mecca, with extensive snow fields during the winter, and boating and hiking in summer. However, when they first started working with Gate 7, they were less known amongst Aussie travellers and very little travel product was contracted for sale through mainstream Australian travel trade. The destination needed a stronger voice in the long-haul travel market to capture the many Australians choosing alternative destinations for outdoor adventure and snow holidays.

Because Australian travellers often book their longer, more complex U.S. itineraries through travel agents, this became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as limited sellable product hampered Australians’ awareness and visitation, hampering interest in developing products for the market. To increase market share for North Lake Tahoe, Gate 7 would need to work with both the DMO and its local operators to raise their profiles in the market and help them establish themselves as a worthwhile alternative to big-name ski destinations.

Strategy and solution

In order to establish North Lake Tahoe’s position in the Australian long-haul market, Gate 7 championed the creation of a collective including two additional Californian ski areas, South Lake Tahoe, and Mammoth Mountain, marketed together as California Snow. This collaborative voice was better positioned to leverage relationships with specialist ski and snow wholesalers to develop and contract their products while claiming market share from other ski-based destinations like Canada, Japan, and Utah.

Australians tend to use travel agents to plan their trips due to both length and complexity. But, because there was a general lack of awareness of North Lake Tahoe amongst travel trade, their product wasn’t being put forward to clients further compounding the lack of awareness in-market. Of course, not every product is a perfect match for the Aussie audience who, for example, prefer accommodation on mountains and in ski fields and have traditionally resisted having to drive from accommodation to ski fields each day. These kinds of strategic market insights from Gate 7 helped North Lake Tahoe streamline and target which tourism products would be best suited to package and distribute to Australian travellers.

Like many regional destinations, North Lake Tahoe’s operators were unfamiliar with where to begin and lacked the data to see the value of attracting Australian travellers. Operator education was largely managed in-destination by the DMO; however, this process was led by the strategy and information provided by Gate 7, especially regarding market-specific length-of-stay and spend data. This process helped operators understand the need to work closely with U.S. receptives; companies that work with Australian wholesalers to streamline product contracting and the booking process end-to-end for agents.

Following the success of targeting ski and snow specialists in the first year, Gate 7 adjusted its iterative strategy over the following three years, targeting more mainstream high-volume wholesalers and retailers for product development and distribution as destination awareness for North Lake Tahoe continued to improve. Contracting operators through Viva Holidays, Flight Centre and Qantas Holidays encouraged distribution to broad audiences, with secondary efforts moving into smaller, niche distribution channels targeting specific travel segments. The move from ski and snow specialist to mainstream wholesalers also complemented the DMO’s strategic decision to shift the perception of North Lake Tahoe to a year-round destination by building on the success of their initial strategy.

Results and learnings

North Lake Tahoe’s commitment to distribution and product listing growth was immensely successful and cemented Australia as a key international market for the destination.

What began as an exercise in education soon became a self-fulfilling cycle of continual improvement with ongoing refinement and re-targeting of their distribution strategy driving continued growth and product development year after year.

As operators in the destination started to contract with Australian wholesalers, awareness, visitation and spend increased in-destination, encouraging other operators to do the same, driving a similarly exponential growth cycle. Over four years, North Lake Tahoe’s tourism product in the Australian market grew by an enormous 620%, from just 24 distributed products to 149 in FY19/20. (An average of nearly 90% year-on-year growth each of the four years.)

VisaView data indicated a 99.5% increase in visitor spending from 2016 to 2018, and simultaneously, Google search data regarding “Lake Tahoe” in Australia increased nearly 17% from 2016 to 2019 as compared to the previous period.

Do you need help maximising distribution and sales through Australian travel trade? Start with our Distribution Analysis and Product Packaging program, a simple service that identifies opportunities to expand your product distribution through 24 travel industry brands along with an educational webinar and practical cheat sheet to empower your local tourism operators to increase theirs.