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July 3, 2013
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Marketing board takes new approach to business plan

The Snowmass Marketing, Special Events & Group Sales Board is in the process of creating its most rigorous business plan in its 10-year history.

The document will lay out the goals and objectives, as well as the actions that will accomplish those, for the Snowmass Tourism department, which has a budget of more than $4 million supported by taxes.

The board is required by town code to produce an annual business plan, but in 2011, it appeared that one didn’t exist.

Councilman Fred Kucker pointed out at the Sept. 19 meeting that year that the code required the board to produce a budget and business plan and make quarterly reports to the council and that he had never seen those, according to the minutes.

“That doesn’t mean (a business plan) didn’t exist in some form,” said board member John Borthwick. “I wasn’t on the board then. I don’t know what that board and what that staff was holding out to be the business plan, but that’s where this discussion started.”

After that discovery, the board presented a business plan to the Town Council. For Borthwick, the document did not provide enough clarity or substance about what the department does.

“In a nutshell, I felt like the spirit of this … really kind of demanded a more rigorous approach,” Borthwick said.

This spring, the board hired an outside consultant, Carl Ribaudo, of Strategic Marketing Group in Tahoe, and set to work on a more detailed document. Borthwick has been the primary board member working with Ribaudo on the project, the first draft of which was presented during the board’s June 6 meeting. The primary goals of the new plan are to increase transparency and to measure the impact of Snowmass Tourism’s actions.

“The transparency and communication aspects I think were always a little problematic,” said Borthwick, who has been on the board for a year. “I can’t speak to anything previous, … but I think there’s a general sense that what the funding was for wasn’t clear enough, … what we, the town citizens, what we are getting for this money here.”

The marketing fund, which supports marketing and special events, is supported by a 2.5 percent sales tax in Snowmass Village. Group sales has a separate fund.

A lot of people in the community have ideas for marketing Snowmass Village and questions about what the department is doing, Borthwick said.

“That’s really the goal of this document is to put a stake in the ground as to this is really what’s happening here,” Borthwick said. “If you get this with enough rigor, then a lot of the extraneous conversations or questions can be referred to this document. Obviously not everyone is going to have the same take on what we’re doing or what we should be doing. That’s the nature of the process, but at least you have a place to have the conversation.”

The other goal the board hopes to achieve with the new plan is to set some measurable goals for Snowmass Tourism. The 2011 document also set some metrics, but to Borthwick, they were overly simplified.

“The shorthand for the metrics has always been heads on beds,” Borthwick said. “And there’s no question it’s probably the single most valuable, bottom-line metric you have. … (But) it’s much more nuanced than that, the problem, and it’s especially more nuanced with the fact that you have much more information, have much better-armed tourists and potential visitors and groups with (more) information than they ever had before.”

Some things are harder to measure than others. Most big events show a monetary return on investment, but there are other, smaller ones that are more “tactical,” Borthwick said.

“Like we have the kickball tournament, and we have the Ferraris coming in, and these things might grow into very big, significant things, and they might just be one-offs that we said, ‘All right, we did this this year; it wasn’t so hot; let’s do something else,’” he said. “But if you’re not measuring that, you frequently don’t get into the dialogue of kind of self-assessment.”

Reed Lewis was one of the Snowmass Village businesspeople the board sought input from. Lewis would like to see “tangible goals” for the department, he said.

“We don’t ever set real goals for ourselves,” Lewis said. “We never know if it’s actually working. … You can see if it’s working, the businesspeople should be happy.”

Lewis and some other business owners in the village are not happy right now. Lewis said sales at his mall retail stores were down 50 percent from last year during the Snowmass Mammoth Fest, which was moved to Town Park this year.

“I’m pretty frustrated with the whole thing,” said Lewis, who once served on the board himself.

Robbie Pastore, owner of Taste of Philly, also said his sales were down that weekend. For him, greater communication from Snowmass Tourism would be an improvement. He said he hasn’t seen representatives on the mall lately and thinks they should release occupancy reports more often.

Interim Snowmass Tourism Director Fred Brodsky said he’s looking forward to seeing the new document.

“It sets a framework for what you do on a day-to-day basis,” Brodsky said. “I think we had a series of goals, but perhaps the strategic piece wasn’t as solid as it should be.”

After reviewing the first draft in June, the board agreed to email comments to Borthwick and Ribaudo and review another draft at a special meeting in July. However, with the hiring of a new Snowmass Tourism director, who is set to start the job on July 15, the board is planning to continue refining the plan on an individual basis between then and the next regular meeting on Aug. 1.

The board will vote to approve it at that meeting. The goal is to present the plan to the Town Council at the same time the board presents its annual budget this fall.

The public will have the opportunity to comment when the marketing board approves it and when the plan goes before the council for approval.


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The Aspen Times Updated Jul 3, 2013 05:00AM Published Jul 3, 2013 05:00AM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.