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"Sport & Marke Congress": Quality always wins in winter sports

At the 10th "Sport & Marke Congress" in Vienna, a pure winter sports panel was held for the first time. Organized by the Snowsports Academy, CEO Martin Dolezal discussed together with ÖSV Marketing Manager Christiane Gasser and Thomas Köhle, Managing Director of Ischgl Tourism.

Panel discussion at the "Sport and Marke Congress": Christiane Gasser (ÖSV), Ronny Leber (moderator), Thomas Köhle (Ischgl Tourism), Martin Dolezal (Snowsports Academy)
Panel discussion at the "Sport and Marke Congress": Christiane Gasser (ÖSV), Ronny Leber (moderator), Thomas Köhle (Ischgl Tourism), Martin Dolezal (Snowsports Academy)

It was a premiere in the noble ambience of the Hilton Vienna Danube Waterfront: At the renowned "Sport & Marke Congress", which is organized by the "Swiss ESB Marketing Network", an event focus on the main stage was dedicated to winter sports and tourism for the first time. The spectrum of topics ranged from strong branding and future-proof digitization to year-round offers and increased initiatives in urban areas.

Martin Dolezal, CEO Snowsports Academy
Martin Dolezal, CEO Snowsports Academy

From Vienna to the world

The Snowsports Academy, which has grown from Vienna over the past two decades to become a networked platform for the global spread of snow sports, invited to this top-class panel discussion. Right from the start, the managing director Martin Dolezal referred to the great economic importance of winter: “Snow sports is an important branch of industry in Austria. 65 percent of the ski days are spent by international guests - and they come to us precisely because of the high quality. This applies to cable cars, hotels and slopes as well as to the top level in ski schools and lifestyle offers.”

This is precisely why, as early as 2000, the Vienna Ski and Snowboard Instructors Association began to be positioned internationally as a Snowsports Academy and to offer the education in English, says Dolezal. "Last season, 3,000 participants from 40 nations completed our courses and are now acting as ambassadors for snow sports worldwide. In addition, with 25,000 course days and 20,000 overnight stays per year, we also make a contribution to economic value creation in our partner regions.”

In addition, the Snowsports Academy appears at industry-specific trade fairs, conferences and congresses as an active partner (e.g. ISPO Munich) and also as an organizer (Snowsports Conference). "The essence of all our initiatives is reflected in our motto 'Snow Connecting People'," says Dolezal. "Because we always focus on people and their enthusiasm for snow sports."

Christiane Gasser, ÖSV Marketing and Communication
Christiane Gasser, ÖSV Marketing and Communication

A strong brand for the future

For the Austrian Ski Association (ÖSV), the highest quality and professionalism are the minimum requirements at all levels. As the most successful professional association in Austria and one of the most successful ski associations in the world, they want to be number 1 again in the Alpine Ski World Cup, emphasized Christiane Gasser, Head of Marketing and Communication: "Of course we have clear sporting goals and want to be back completely by 2025 at the home World Championships in Saalbach be at the top." However, the association is more than just a top-class sports organizer: "We are also a multiplier for winter sports, a successful event organizer, the initiator of mass sports offers and a service provider for the skiing and snowboarding family."

In order to take a further step in the direction of modernization and digitization, a new logo was launched in April 2023, with which the brand name "Ski Austria", which is easier to market internationally, is more in the spotlight, according to Gasser. The relaunch was extensively and controversially discussed in the media in Austria - and within a few days ensured a sensationally high level of awareness of the new logo. The day after the launch, #skiaustria was among the top 10 trending topics on twitter. There was also an article in "Zeit im Bild", 253 articles (print, online, social media) with a reach of 17.7 million and a total of 137,699 interactions on Ski Austria's social media channels.


"Thanks to the dynamic and modern brand image, we also reach a young and urban audience," explained Gasser at the "Sport & Marke Congress". That's why the two hashtag slogans #skiverrückt (translated: #skicracy) and #snowboardverrückt (translated: #snowboardcracy) were created. “Because that is exactly the core that unites us all. Everyone can experience the joy and enthusiasm with us, whether at the Night Race in Schladming, the Junior World Championships in St. Anton am Arlberg or a popular sports event. Sport connects people, peoples. On the slopes, all seems right with the world.”

Thomas Köhle, CEO Ischgl Tourism
Thomas Köhle, CEO Ischgl Tourism

A destination for all seasons

The Ischgl / Paznaun region has not had reason to complain about a lack of awareness in recent years - albeit under rather negative circumstances. It is therefore nice to be welcome back to the international sports and business community, as Thomas Köhle, Managing Director of Ischgl Tourism, explained. The clear objective of the region for the future is: "A winter sports resort known for lifestyle and event tourism on the way to becoming a year-round destination," says Köhle. "We have such a top infrastructure - it would be a shame to only use it for five months."

In order to get closer to this goal, the skiing and cross-country skiing season - also thanks to the altitude of almost 2,900 meters - is being extended well into spring until May 1st. "I would ski in April anyway - it's been light for a long time, the temperatures are more pleasant and there's more space on the slopes," said Köhle. There is also a series of events under the “Spring Blanc” label, with three superstars giving concerts in Ischgl this year: George Ezra, SIDO and, at the closing of the season, Eros Ramazotti.

The fact that summer is increasingly becoming the focus of attention in a winter sports region has to do with the employees, as Köhle emphasized. “Many only come if we make them a job offer in the summer. We have therefore created our own crew card, with which we want to reach the employee in the same way as the guest.”

In addition to hiking, cycling and mountaineering, the tourism highlights in summer include events such as the Silvrettarun 3000 or the classic "Ischgl Ironbike". In order to extend the year-round offer into autumn, the cable cars will run until October 15th. There is also the "Golden Summit" activity series in the region, which houses 11 restaurants with 30 toques and a thermal bath, to promote sports such as bouldering, mountain biking and paragliding. The traditional start of the winter season is at the end of November with the "Top of the Mountain" concert - in 2022 Sean Paul was the headliner.

Digitization as a core topic

The final panel discussion with questions from the audience focused on the topic of digitization, among other things. “There are certain visions as to how far we can reach the young audience. Today's 12 to 14-year-olds are very familiar with VR glasses. Web 3.0 versions could be that I ride with my avatar and get a feeling through feedback - maybe supported by a simple suit with four sensors", Martin Dolezal from the Snowsports Academy described a possible scenario. "In addition, most tourist regions have high-quality video recordings that are ideal for such and other digital projects."

Panel discussion "Sport und Marke Congress": Christiane Gasser (ÖSV), Ronny Leber (moderator), Thomas Köhle (Ischgl Tourism), Martin Dolezal (Snowsports Academy)
Panel discussion "Sport und Marke Congress": Christiane Gasser (ÖSV), Ronny Leber (moderator), Thomas Köhle (Ischgl Tourism), Martin Dolezal (Snowsports Academy)

Thomas Köhle from Ischgl Tourism presented two concrete projects. “This year we will record and address our summer guests exclusively digitally and via smartphone. In winter we will then start an attempt to activate the turnstiles at the lifts with a mobile phone. This year we are trying it with our employees, and if it works, we will also do it for our guests from the 2024/25 season.” In addition to the brand initiatives already mentioned, the ÖSV is also in the middle of a major digitization offensive: “We want the Relieve the burden on state associations and offer more service quality for the ski and snowboard family overall," said Christiane Gasser. "In addition, we want to involve our partners and sponsors even more in digital opportunities."

Sustainability and urban spaces

The areas of sustainability and new target groups in urban areas were considered at least as important as digitization. "Skiing must come to the city and for that we will also need artificial slopes and ski halls," pleaded Martin Dolezal. “That sounds weird for Austria, but we have been working with ski halls in the Netherlands for 20 years, and it is common practice there to make initial contact with snow sports.” Dolezal cited a 9,000 square meter artificial slope in Stockholm and one as further examples Ski hall in Oslo, which generates more energy than it needs thanks to generous photovoltaic areas and waste heat.

For Thomas Köhle, the following question arises on this topic: "What is the alternative for the people who live in these valleys? They have developed something over the last 60 years and now they want to continue doing so.” However, care is always taken to protect nature for future generations. “These people live here for a whole year. We therefore also have permanently untouched and natural valleys and slopes that are not used for tourism. In addition, the energy for our systems comes 100 percent from renewable sources – including for the thermal baths.”

Christiane Gasser, on the other hand, considered it particularly important that all stakeholders in the winter sports sector work together. “Many people in Austria are not aware of the economic importance of winter sports and tourism. It is therefore the joint task of the media, associations, politics, clubs and other actors to do more educational work here. Because sport moves – not only emotionally on TV, but also people from the couch to the slopes. And one thing must not be forgotten: winter sports began in urban areas and that is where the future lies.”

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Fotocredits: Gabriele Giessenböck, Leadersnet-CMikes

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