In the fall of 2018, SnowTrex will be celebrating an amazing 1 million customers! In honour of this milestone, the SnowTrex editorial staff spoke with CEO Andreas Rühl.
What first began as a one-man company operating out of a student flat back in 1999 has since become Germany’s leading winter sports tour operator: TravelTrex GmbH with its winter sports brand, SnowTrex, and it’s even growing internationally. This fall, SnowTrex will reach its one millionth customer. What do these particular holidaymakers appreciate in a ski holiday with SnowTrex?
Our customers appreciate our large selection of accommodations (we have over 2,000), the attractive presentation online (we inspire the desire for a ski holiday), our extensive competence (we are specialists and personally provide advice) and of course our incredibly attractive prices (with price guarantee).
What inspired you to found your own company for winter sports holidays in 1999?
There are essentially two reasons: My love for winter sports and my passion as an entrepreneur. Winter sports have been my obsession since I was a child. In order to be able to spend even more time on skis, I immediately got my ski instructor certification when I turned 18 and accompanied numerous group ski holidays from various providers. Due to my entrepreneurial spirit, it didn’t take long to get together with my ski instructor friends in 1991 and start organising our own group ski holidays under the brand “SKI fascination”. In 1998, as the Dutch provider “SnowTrex Utrecht” attempted to make their way into the German market, I recognised an opportunity in their unique concept (no group holidays) and with this, founded TravelTrex GmbH in 1999 after a short, yet very successful cooperation.
In your opinion, what was the main reason for the SnowTrex success story?
There’s not one reason, but rather several human and product-based factors that fit well together:
Optimism and endurance are the most important personal qualities for our success, as over the years – even before SnowTrex – I’ve had to overcome many setbacks while never losing my enthusiasm for establishing a successful winter sports tour operator.
Then, I was lucky enough to find the right colleagues early enough: Thomas Bartel began working as an intern for SnowTrex in 2002. Also a ski instructor, Thomas developed a huge amount of enthusiasm for SnowTrex in such a short amount of time, often working through the night with me, which led me to ask him after nine months as an intern if he would like to work with me in the future as a manager for TravelTrex. From intern to manager! I also want to mention Stefan Willems and Marc Behrmann, both of whom started in 2003 and are now authorised officers who help make up the executive board along with Thomas and myself. With these four people, and the many other great colleagues who have come along since then, we’re excellently situated today.
Along with a good team, you’ll also need a good product: In contrast to the other providers, we’ve focused on the important things from the very beginning: Accommodation & lift pass. With these elements, we provide service to a much larger target group than the group ski holiday tour operators, many of which have already disappeared from the market. Whether you’re a couple, a family, or a group searching for an attractive accommodation including lift pass for the best price – we’ve got you covered!
Another important factor is our online presence and internalisation. Today, SnowTrex is the leading provider in many European countries and there appears to be no end in sight concerning our growth: In August, we went online with “SnowTrex Lithuania” as our 18th country, the amount of offered accommodations will increase this winter from 1,500 to over 2,000, and currently, revenue is up by 14%.
The one millionth customer after 19 years. How does that feel as the founder?
Unreal, somehow. During our first winter, I was so proud to have more than 500 travellers. 10,000 travellers was completely inconceivable to me. Back then, the first booking was made in August – a time today in 2018 when over 10,000 guests have already booked. It’s truly unbelievable what all has happened since it was founded. In 1999, we didn’t even have a website and all of our bookings we made via catalogues, newspaper ads and flyers at universities. Today, we have over 100 colleagues, many of which are apprentices, and over 100,000 guests per year. All of this success certainly makes one proud, yet humble as you certainly cannot assume that it occurs simply because of how persistent you are. Without luck, it just doesn’t work.
Today, SnowTrex sells holidays to almost all of Europe. Where do most of the customers come from and which destinations are currently trending?
Our customers currently come from about 50 different countries. A large portion of those customers come from Germany – about 56% – with the remaining 44% being international customers coming mostly from the Netherlands, France, England and Poland. The frontrunner of the destinations is Austria, with France following close behind. Together, both countries currently make up for about 85% of our bookings.
How much have customers and their requirements over the last 19 years changed the history of the company? How does SnowTrex meet these requirements?
There’s quite a bit to be observed over 19 years. Something that really stands out is the fact that we used to have many young customers in our early years, most of which preferred booking for France. While we still have these customers, many of our younger customers from back then have families now and prefer to travel to Austria instead, which led us to strongly expand our selection in this field. You could therefore say that we’ve grown with the requirements of our customers. However, by expanding our selection, we were met with the challenge of providing extensive filter options for each target group so that everyone can find the right type of holiday. That’s one of our biggest strengths of our website: Whether it be a hotel or apartment, on the piste or in resort, luxury or Low-Cost – all this and more can be individually selected when performing a search.
What methods does SnowTrex use to get families and young people excited about winter sports?
First and foremost, I would say our extremely affordable offers which are intended for both young people and young families alike, of whom are not bound to school holidays: During our Crazy Booking Nights, we offer a one week ski holiday in France including lift pass starting from €69 even with the lift pass being valued at €140.
Furthermore, we also organise a special event week each year in the French glacier ski area of Les 2 Alpes to start off the season: Along with skiing, we also provide an extensive entertainment programme for our approx. 1,000 participants including a live concert, a mulled wine evening and even great après ski parties, and all that starting from €179 including the lift pass.
When considering the families who book with us, we have significantly expanded our selection of child-friendly accommodations over the years, some of which with high children’s discounts. What’s more is that our customers also have the chance to add extra services to their bookings such as discounted equipment hire or ski lessons.
Youth development is also incredibly important to us. This can be seen not only in our selection, but also in our engagement as a sponsor for the “Felix Neureuther Race Camp”, which supports talented youth, as well as being a partner to the “Dein Winter. Dein Sport” initiative, which promotes the positive aspects of winter sports as a whole: Movement, health, friendship, experiences in nature, emotions and fair competitive sports.
How will the milestone of “1 Million Customers” be celebrated?
For us, the one millionth customer provides us with the opportunity to say “thank you”. I am so incredibly thankful that so many customers have put their trust in SnowTrex and enjoy going on ski holidays with us. With that in mind, our one millionth customer, Mr. Bodenheimer, who booked a holiday on 30 October 2018, can also get excited: As a gift, his entire holiday has been paid for – a five-day trip to Bad Hofgastein for four people.
What do you see for the future of winter sports?
I’m very positive about the future of winter sports, and there’s various reasons for this: First, a winter/ski holiday speaks for itself. There are unique experiences to be had by travellers of all ages and it provides the perfect combination of relaxation and activities. Second, the product itself is becoming increasingly attractive: The ski resorts, as well as the accommodations and lift companies, are investing millions into the expansion of their selection. 20 years ago, for example, you would have ridden in an open two-person chair lift, sometimes for 20 minutes or longer through snow flurries, just to get up to the mountain. Today, simply riding the lift in many ski areas is an experience all its own , completely independent of actually skiing on the best-prepared pistes. Additionally, artificial snow-making facilities provide for a snow security like never before. The third reason I’m so positive about the future is because of the success of SnowTrex: Throughout the years, the company has been able to get thousands of people excited about winter sports with its attractive offers and I’m sure that it will continue to be a success in the future.
What does 1 million customers mean for your future corporate action?
After 1 comes 2! For the first million customers, we needed about 19 years, the second million should be reached in half that time, maybe even by 2025… In addition, we also want to continue to expand our position as the leader in the German market as well as become the leader in other markets. We currently have 2,000 accommodations available in our selection, which should continue to strongly grow in numbers.
We also want to extend our success into other niches and further develop our other brands, like SportsTrex, to have it reach a significant size in the travel industry.
Overall, we still see lots of potential to continue to lead the travel industry with our brands. Our next milestone will be our 20 year company anniversary in July 2019, where many other ideas about the further development of the company will surely appear.