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Answers on COVID-19 economic crisis from Aspen’s chamber president

Staff report

The Aspen Times posed questions to Debbie Braun, the president and CEO of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, about what the organization is doing during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Aspen Times: What is ACRA currently doing for the Aspen business community related to the COVID-19 crisis?

Debbie Braun: ACRA is running local advertisements and social messaging the business community to know that we hear them, and look forward to supporting recovery efforts.

We created a robust resources page, which includes everything from a business impact survey, mental health resources, delivery and takeout food options, and more.

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You can also find a business recovery toolbox on http://www.aspenchamber.org/COVID-19 providing resources and information on economic disaster loans and grants for the business and nonprofit communities.

Our general message is that we support the aggressive tactics to keep the public safe and that when appropriate, we plan to deploy equally aggressive measures to support our local business community and overcome this unprecedented event.

Our Aspen chamber social media channel is also being used to amplify messages from around the valley, reposting important public health information, ways to volunteer and ways to support local businesses, how to enjoy the outdoors while social distancing responsibly.

AT: Is ACRA working on a new marketing plan for summer 2020 given the cancellation of major events like Food & Wine and Aspen Ideas Festival? Is it moving toward focusing tourists on enjoying our natural environment?

DB: Currently we are focused on “keeping the dream alive” from a travel perspective and bringing Aspen to people’s living rooms.

We have delayed the start of all advertising for spring/summer/fall, but when it is appropriate to start marketing the destination we will be ready to do so with a focus on regional drive markets to begin with, and then as air service and national travel opens back up, once again on our direct fly markets.

We will focus on the rejuvenating power of nature, value proposition (luxury for less) and having people enjoy the simple pleasures in life that they may have taken for granted previously.

AT: How hard did ACRA work to find an alternative date for Food & Wine?

DB: ACRA worked diligently and closely with Food & Wine in regard to the possibility of rescheduling. ACRA reviewed the summer/fall events calendar to identify dates that may have been a possibility noting events currently scheduled for 2020, as well as referencing calendars over the past several years to identify events that have historically taken place. We consulted with our lodging partners and the research indicated, as Aspen’s summer/fall season traditionally offers many experiences, available rescheduling dates were limited. In addition, ACRA along with DevINC, connected with other local partners to explore the possibility of activating on alternative dates. Food & Wine also took into consideration the current landscape of the culinary world and availability of event partners overall.

AT: How is ACRA funded? How much revenue comes from the city’s lodging and sales taxes? Is ACRA readjusting its budget due to the lost revenue as a result of the virus crisis?

DB: ACRA is a membership organization funded by 760 member businesses. We administer a contract for service with the city of Aspen to provide destination marketing services for the community. The funds we receive reflect 1.5% of the 2% lodging tax.

The 2020 ACRA Destination Marketing Budget is around $2.3 million. We do not receive sales tax. The city of Aspen and ACRA finance committee are working on budget forecasting through the end of 2020.

ACRA has a reserve fund in place to help offset revenues and keep programming as we shift from reaction to action.

AT: How many employees does ACRA have? Is ACRA adjusting staffing levels as a result of COVID-19?

DB: ACRA is a small employer in Aspen with 15 full-time employees and 10 part-time. We’ve furloughed 11 employees to date.

AT: Is there any message you’d like send to the Aspen community and business community?

DB: In the last few weeks Aspen has been forced on its heels reacting to a world health crisis and economic spiral that is rapidly changing.

Business owners are doing their best to stay in business and take care of valuable employees. Many will not have the financial resources to survive on their own without customers, they need help. Please visit our recovery toolbox at http://www.aspenchamber.org/COVID-19. It is full of information on economic disaster loans and grants for you, the Aspen business community. We’ve got your back, we’re in it together.


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