Ski schools are profit centers, expected to net between 40-60% profit on revenues, which is then funneled into general operations. With these numbers in mind, let's re-examine the commonly held belief that management sees ski schools as a "necessary evil."
As someone remarked in this thread, ski school and food and beverage bring in an equal amount of revenues, on average. F&B presumably has higher costs, so cannot post as large a profit.
If SAM regards ski school as a "necessary evil," the necessity appears to be the infusion of green ink to offset general operational costs and not to serve ski area customers, both new and returning.
The "evil" appears to be the advantage the company takes of the people employed their ski school. We can rationalize that this is made possible by our passion for the sport and the fact that the line of aspirants behind any employed ski instructor is long enough to cushion the defection of seasoned pros from the profession.
We can rationalize that higher rates of instructor pay would be picked up by the customer anyway, so why not have the customer provide tips as a form of incentive pay to deserving instructors? It's a slick rationale, but it takes away the ski school's ability to reward and recognize performance. Instead, all instructors in a category (usually cert level plus years of service) are paid the same rate, regardless of performance, and the customer recognizes and rewards performance. On the surface, this appears to be fair, but as LM points out, some customers are more able and or willing to provide this incentive than others. Ultimately, tipping is a random reinforcer, which means that it reinforces nothing in particular.
Do we want the ski school to operate as a team or as a collection of individuals out for themselves? A tip-dependent economy undercuts the team. It also makes some customers more equal than others, which undermines the service ethic--and lacking ethical purpose means no chance for excellence, in my book.
In conclusion: 1) I think tipping is a necessary evil in the instructional economy, but that doesn't make it right nor does it necessarily reward excellence. 2) The necessary evil of ski area operations is that the ski school can be exploited to brighten the overall financial picture. Because it can be, it should be. That's sound fiduciary management that no board of directors is going to dispute, especially in view of the low to nonexistent margins in other departments. The part is exploited for the betterment of the whole. The part is rewarded by being skiing employees, which is an intangible of great value to the employment market.
It comes down to this question: What's a ski school for? NSAA needs to wrestle with this one, because the answer they arrive at determines how they view the instructor--as an important ally in generating profits for the organization or as a necessary evil.
[ March 31, 2003, 08:57 AM: Message edited by: nolo ]