It does not take long for Armelle Solelhac to admit that she has the ultimate dream job: “I’m a consultant for mountain resorts and outdoor tourism”. Her job makes her travel to beautiful places all over the world to identify major trends in world tourism at medium and long term, to enable her clients to develop their future activity.
And yet, at the age of twenty, her career plan was quite different. She was about to become a business lawyer, expert in mergers and acquisitions, when a meeting at the University of Grenoble led her to a change of plans. Two years of touring the world’s mountain resorts (280, in 27 countries, on 5 continents), made her switch careers, leaving the “legal track” and embracing a career in the then little travelled niche of marketing strategy consulting in the tourism sector.
A key moment: 25 July 2007
It may be hard for some people to remember the precise moment when they had to make a major choice in their lives, but Armelle Solelhac perfectly recalls the moment. After her tour of the world of mountain resorts for a qualitative study commissioned by a major ski lift company, she had to present her results to them on her return on 25 July 2007. “That was my epiphany.” As soon as she had delivered her recommendations and a 3-year action plan in terms of customer experience, she realised that this was going to be her career.
“It was a revelation. In the space of 3 hours, I knew that this was what I wanted to do.”
At the time, advice on the customer journey and client experience was almost non-existent in the mountain tourism sector. Ski resort guests came quite naturally, and little effort was made to seduce them. In less than a couple of weeks, Armelle created her marketing agency. 9 months later, she enrolled in the ESCP Executive Master in Marketing & Communication where her courses helped her to extend her consulting offer. Her thesis was dedicated to the rise of play in our society, and how mountain resorts and outdoor sports brands could use social networks to market themselves through brand content. “It was very innovative at the time.”
Today, SWiTCH, one of her companies, is based in Annecy, France, and California, USA. She works with start-ups as well as with international groups. The business operates in Europe (France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, a.o.), but also in North America. The company was established in the US following a conference at the prestigious annual convention of the NSAA (National Ski Areas Association). “After a conference I had given in Zermatt, I was invited to this annual convention for a presentation on social geolocation.” She is the only European who was invited to speak to all mountain professionals in North America. “And 15 days later, my first deal was signed in Colorado!”
But outdoor sports brands and mountain tourism are not SWiTCH’s only areas of expertise. For Armelle Solelhac, her work helps her customers determine their strategy and action plans, and make the necessary investments to implement this vision in the long term. “A good marketing strategy lasts much longer than 3 to 5 years.” In her view, the main element of a mission is to succeed in uniting the different stakeholders (shareholders, public institutions, primary and secondary residents, socio-professionals, local associations, etc.) around a common project.
We succeeded in making collaboration possible between entities and personalities who sometimes hadn’t spoken to each other for more than 30 years!
For her, the Covid-19 crisis is a catalyst for many changes that have appeared over the last few years and, apart from its brutality, the current situation doesn’t come as a surprise. Though the strategies of mountain resorts are only just beginning to integrate the effects of climate change, changes in consumer behaviour have been in place for several years already. The development of teleworking, and “worliday” (a contraction of “work” and “holiday”, where a person works a few hours a day at their workplace) has led mountain resorts to develop new facilities such as co-working and co-living areas, to reconcile tourists’ personal and professional occupations.
A culture of core values from the outset
Ever since SWiTCH was founded in 2008, Armelle Solelhac was keen to incorporate her personal values into her business. That is why her company is a member of 1% Pour La Planète and donates 1% of its pre-tax turnover to environmental protection associations.
It’s a very small contribution to preserve our planet: without a healthy planet, there’s no business!
Since then, her commitment has taken on another dimension and the company’s entire operating mode is now designed in terms of ecological impact. “I’ve been considering the way we work, and how we may limit our impact, but also how we may continuously improve the social aspect.” So, since June 2016, well before the Covid-19 health crisis, all team members switched to teleworking. The aim was to reduce stress levels, increase comfort and organisational freedom, and lower the company’s carbon footprint. In line with these efforts, a B-Corp certification process is currently under way for SWiTCH, and the company is already labelled a “société à mission” (“company with a mission”) according to France’s PACTE.
A second world tour, in 2017, allowed Armelle to visit more than 100 seaside resorts, in 14 countries, on 4 continents. She has now developed additional expertise in this field, where issues are close to those offered at mountain resorts and equally subject to seasonality.
A passion for entrepreneurship, but also for teaching
In 2019, Armelle Solelhac created the LARGER THAN LIFE group, comprising the SWiTCH consulting agency, as well as the “pre-seed” business angel activities that she started 5 years earlier. The group already has an asset management company, a real estate diagnostics company, a travel agency based on sustainable development, a marketing automation company, and a company that deploys artificial intelligence applied to video. At the same time, Armelle has been teaching brand strategy for many years in business schools and universities.
Sharing her knowledge and experience comes naturally to her: “When you have a passion for what you do, you like to communicate your practices and share your knowledge”.
Her book Mountain Resorts Management & Marketing was published in French and in English. Armelle also started to work on a PhD on the upscaling of mountain destinations by co-developing and co-branding with brands.
Upping the scale, that’s her speciality!