Blumenthal: Business plan tells us what we already know | AspenTimes.com

Blumenthal: Business plan tells us what we already know

Mel Blumenthal
Second View

Mel Blumenthal

As we transition from the hectic days of summer to the shorter, more tranquil days of fall, some of us return to more serious pursuits of economic and programmatic planning for the new year.

Our town's planning efforts are currently focused on creating an annual budget structured to achieve our varied resort and community goals. A significant portion of the town budget includes funding for marketing, special events and group sales.

Going back in history, you might remember that marketing, special events and group sales were originally within the purview of the Snowmass Village Resort Association, which was not a town-run department, nor did it receive funding from our government coffers. It was more akin to a traditional chamber of commerce organization run by the various village lodging, retail, food and beverage operators.

Often with the passage of time, such organizations grow a bit insular, fat and sloppy with resultant conflicts that fester among its constituents until at some point they become dysfunctional. That's what happened to the resort association, which ultimately went into dissolution mode, a few loose remnants of which are still hanging around and waiting for final closure.

With the demise of the resort association and a lingering distrust of putting in place another similar structure run by the same group of stakeholders, our elected representatives decided to take over all the marketing, special-event and group-sales functions previously handled by the resort association.

This town department is funded by marketing and lodging sales taxes, which currently generate public funds rapidly approaching $6 million a year — we're talking big bucks here.

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When this new town department, now known as Snowmass Tourism, was originally established, the then-sitting Town Council put up Chinese walls to prevent it and future councils from succumbing to the overwhelming temptation to dip into this sizable piggy bank in order to fund their own pet projects.

In recent years, there have been signs of major cracks in those walls, with recent councils taking a more active role in micromanaging how and where to spend these dollars. But with the notable exception of one significant transgression a couple of years ago in the funding of the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival, for which the council's hands were publicly slapped, the council appears to have backed off from meddling in areas it's unqualified to play in. Line-item decisions concerning the marketing, special-events and group-sales budget should rightfully be left in the hands of the professional Snowmass Tourism staff and the marketing board.

In the process of backing off from some of its more intrusive, meddlesome ways, the Town Council insisted that the board create a formal business plan to serve as a guide to ensure a healthy and vibrant resort-based economy well into the future.

After $20,000 was paid to a consultant to assist in creating the business plan, along with lots of man-hours, brainpower and internal and public discussion, the board has finally approved a very complex, overly process-oriented, somewhat ambiguous, incomplete, 46-page document that it has labeled the 2013/2014 Business Plan.

This document will soon be presented to the Town Council along with Snowmass Tourism's proposed 2014 budget, which is supposed to be informed and guided by the business plan. But it isn't quite there yet, and perhaps, according to the various disclaimers contained in the plan, it won't be there for several years — if ever.

What has emerged is a reasonably good skeletal structure including six baseline strategies tied into a set of four goals along with desired outcomes and action items, some of which are reasonably specific and helpful while others are not. Unfortunately, all of it suffers under the weight of its own verbosity, which is the source of its ambiguity and lack of clarity. Bottom line: It doesn't include much in the way of new breakthrough thinking and ideas beyond what Snowmass Tourism and the board already know and have been working on during the past few years.

If I were king, I'd suggest they return to the drawing board, cut this sucker down significantly in page count, come up with more innovative ideas and put it in clear, understandable English so that anyone interested in its content could easily make heads or tails of the plan.

On an interesting side note, this plan contains the first formal questioning I've seen concerning the effectiveness of our local central reservation system, Stay Aspen Snowmass. The plan states that Stay Aspen Snowmass' current systems and operational processes impose restrictions on capability and flexibility, leaving the service in an increasingly uncompetitive position and decreasing market share. This likely will be seen as a controversial position among many of our local lodging businesses that still see value in maintaining a central reservations capability and Stay Aspen Snowmass specifically.

I'm back in Santa Monica, Calif., until the colors change, but you can still beat a path to my door at secondview@earthlink.net.

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