Skiing has been a passion of mine since my childhood, so turning this into a career was always a dream I had. My brother, Nick (Maison Sport CEO), and I both skied professionally for Great Britain and I have always felt at home in the mountains. After retiring from the sport and working as an insurance broker in the City, alongside my brother and fellow ex-ski-racer Aaron Tipping (Maison Sport CFO), we decided to take the leap and buy a French Ski School.
We bought Supreme Ski School in 2014 and quickly set about updating the website and booking system to bring it online. Even now, many traditional ski schools still don’t offer full online booking for snowsport lessons. We saw a great opportunity to make it easier for travellers to book lessons, as well as offer more dynamic and transparent pricing.
The size of the ski holiday market has remained relatively flat: Over the past 20 years, the total number of annual skier days worldwide fluctuated between 350 million and 400 million. With more instructors qualifying each year, we saw an imbalance in the market – too many instructors and not enough customers. We also noticed that travellers were increasingly looking for more tailored experiences; they wanted to choose their instructor and have greater influence over their experience on the slopes. The way traditional ski schools allocate instructors to a customer isn’t very transparent or personalised, resulting in a lottery for customers as to whether they get an instructor who suits their requirements.
This was the lightbulb moment for us, and we set out to create a platform that enables travellers to choose their perfect instructor, whilst connecting the two parties directly. Thus, providing benefits both to customers and instructors. In 2016 Maison Sport was born, an online snowsports instructor marketplace that allows customers to book an instructor in just a few clicks. The platform presents an accessible way for individuals or groups to find instructors based on their preferences and the specific skills they want to learn or improve on.
The platform has grown year on year and has now served over 50,000 travellers and helped over 1,000 instructors across France, Switzerland and Italy to secure seasonal work. We have recently taken on a £3.1million investment, which will enable us to continue to innovate in the snowsports lesson market.
With the experience economy booming, offering a wider range of snowsport activities is at the forefront of our plans. As it currently stands, there are still a huge number of niche services which are inaccessible online. Be it a snowmobile excursion or a snowshoeing hike, we hope to expand our offering and bridge this gap, allowing travellers to easily book a range of winter sports activities and make the most of their ski holidays.
Our data, alongside the wider market, suggests that the travel planning and booking process is evolving towards being more seamless but still highly personalised. We have found that whilst travellers love the ease of booking online, they miss the benefits of interacting with a real person, who can ensure their needs are met. This is reinforced by Airbnb’s Brian Chesky who said: “The Holy Grail is becoming more like an AI travel agent that’s the ultimate agent that can learn about you, and understand you.” We are looking to incorporate hyper-personalisation, using machine learning and AI, to customise recommendations and provide rapid and personable customer service in multiple languages.
The integration of AI into the tourism industry has the potential to radically change the sector. A study by the World Travel & Tourism Council suggests that AI and Machine Learning could result in a $1 trillion boost in global economic activity from the travel and tourism sector by 2025. The future of Travel Tech is looking bright and we hope to be at the forefront of this. Watch this space.