Mel Blumenthal
Columnist
Snowmass Village, CO, Colorado

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February 26, 2013
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Mel Blumenthal: The scoop on Snowmass Tourism

Last week, Susan Hamley announced her resignation after 10 years of dedicated service as director of Snowmass Tourism. She characterized her decision as "bittersweet." Reading between the lines, as I'm wont to do, I would imagine that the better part of the job was becoming overwhelming.

In 2003, when Susan came aboard to lead the Snowmass Marketing and Special Events Department, it was just her, a coordinator and a manageable and efficient five-member board composed of marketing professionals experienced in various aspects of our resort programming and infrastructure.

Prior to Susan's arrival, town voters passed a 2.5-percent sales tax to fund marketing and special events activities, and subsequently the voters also passed a 2.4-percent lodging tax to fund group sales. Eventually the town merged its marketing, special events and group sales departments under the Snowmass Tourism umbrella, which Susan has been leading since its inception.

Snowmass Tourism now has 13 employees, a large nine-member board and an annual budget in the neighborhood of $5 million, quite a bit more than Aspen and many other competitive resorts.

When the original department was established, it was the intention of the Town Council at the time to make sure there were firm Chinese walls established between the two bodies in order to prevent the council from succumbing to the temptation to interfere in areas in which they had no expertise, as well as being tempted to use the significant tax funds that were going to be generated for purposes not directly connected to marketing, special events and ultimately group sales activities.

At the beginning, Susan reported to the five-member board with what was then essentially advisory input from the town manager. The Town Council had overall approval of the department's annual budget, but it did not get into the weeds by micromanaging the line items in that budget.

Somewhere along the line in recent years, the Town Council, as well as the town manager, decided they wanted to make a structural change in the way things previously operated. And since they like to micromanage just about everything else, the Chinese walls that separated and protected the tourism department from the Town Council came tumbling down, and Susan was put in the structurally dysfunctional position of now reporting to what essentially turns out to be 15 different bosses composed of the nine-member board, the town manager and five Town Council members. All have their own vision as to how marketing and group sales should be conducted, and many are not shy about communicating their differing viewpoints and demanding adherence to these viewpoints by the tourism leader and department.

Back in my show-biz days, I was frequently approached by friends and friends of friends with ideas for TV shows and movies. Unfortunately none of these well-meaning folks had a clue as to what goes into the creation, preparation and execution of these productions. Just like the misconception that everyone has a viable idea for a TV show or movie lurking somewhere in their minds, it appears our amateur marketers on Town Council harbor similar views when it comes to marketing, event planning and group sales.

This has led to a tug-of-war between our professional and experienced personnel and some of the recent additions to the enlarged board and our armchair experts on Town Council, which has resulted in significant tensions between all involved. I would guess that Susan decided that she's finally had enough and would be much happier in more serene pastures.

Anyone steeped in organizational structuring would quickly come to the conclusion that what we now have is inefficient, ineffective and will quickly lead to significant frustration by anyone heading this organization.

If a review of this organizational mess, as well as the lessons learned along the way, is not quickly conducted along with the implementation of the appropriate changes that are necessary, any qualified and experienced candidate to follow Susan would have to have their heads examined before accepting this job, no matter how attractive the compensation package.

Susan, you've put up with this dysfunctional mess longer than any of us had the right to expect, and for this and your long and dedicated tenure we are grateful for all you accomplished along the way. Good luck in all your future endeavors, which hopefully will be less chaotic than the last few years as head of Snowmass Tourism.

Your comments are always welcome and appreciated at secondview@earthlink.net.


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The Aspen Times Updated Feb 26, 2013 05:51PM Published Feb 26, 2013 05:49PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.