Skico saves $5,000 on its ACRA dues |

Skico saves $5,000 on its ACRA dues

At a time when the Aspen Skiing Co. is stressing the need for enhanced marketing and service, it is also cutting its contribution to the Aspen Chamber Resort Association by $5,000.

The Skico will pay $25,000 in membership fees to the chamber this year, down from $30,000 last year, The Aspen Times discovered while studying the ACRA’s new budget.

The budget was approved last Thursday at the annual ACRA membership luncheon. During that luncheon, Skico President and CEO Pat O’Donnell stressed to the audience that the ski industry is facing tougher challenges than ever for tourists’ vacation dollars.

The theme of O’Donnell’s and other ski industry executives’ presentations was that ski towns like Aspen must bolster their efforts to attract and keep guests.

In some ways, the company is doing just that. Skico officials said they will spend record marketing dollars this year to promote discounted lift tickets.

But O’Donnell’s call to action also appears at odds with the Skico’s decreased contribution to the ACRA. Although the organization spends most of its marketing funds to attract summer business, it also runs a variety of programs for winter guests. Two-year deal ACRA President and CEO Christine Nolen said the Skico’s membership fee for this budget was established last year in a two-year contract. That contract was signed before Nolen became ACRA’s leader, so she couldn’t address its history. It spelled out what the Skico would pay last year and this year.

Nolen took over the chamber’s helm in February when Diane Moore departed. Moore couldn’t be reached for comment about the Skico’s contract Wednesday. ACRA board of directors chairman Don Sheeley and vice chairwoman Molly Campbell were both out of town.

Nolen didn’t raise any complaints about the contract. She noted that the Skico contributes to the ACRA in a variety of ways, including the discounted season passes it offers to businesses that belong to the chamber.

That was a key component of the contract. The Skico committed to making discounted passes available for two seasons – 1998-99 and 1999-2000. Before that, the pass deals were a year-to-year arrangement and sometimes an uncertainty.

In return for the commitment, the ACRA agreed to reduce the Skico’s membership due from $30,000 to $25,000 and the chamber agreed to continue operating specific programs.

“Keep in mind the timing,” Nolen said. “The fact is this agreement was negotiated over a year ago.”

That was before the Skico and local businesses suffered through a lousy ski season. That poor performance prompted O’Donnell to call for increased marketing and guest services efforts. Skico won’t review fee Skico spokeswoman Rose Abello said the company has no reason to reconsider the contract that spells out the $5,000 reduction of its ACRA membership dues.

She said that the Skico hasn’t sensed any unhappiness with the contract by the ACRA. Chamber officials had sought the extra year of commitment to the reduced-price season passes, she noted.

Abello said the Skico shouldn’t feel pressured into increasing its fee just because it’s lobbying for greater efforts for attracting tourists.

“I don’t think there’s a significant correlation,” Abello said. “I don’t think that [the fee to ACRA] is a solution to the marketing issues facing this community.”

She noted that the Skico’s increase in winter marketing dollars more than offsets the $5,000 reduction in the fee to the chamber.

“We’re spending more than ever,” Abello said. When asked how much more the Skico will spend on marketing this year compared to last year, she responded, “A lot more than five thousand dollars, a ton more.”

The Skico remains the ACRA’s single biggest dues payer despite the reduction, she noted. No dues rising The Skico is far from alone in getting a break from the ACRA this year.

“The first tenet for budgeting for [fiscal year] 2000 agreed upon by the board was that the membership dues would not increase,” Nolen wrote in a memo to members.

“Further, it was agreed that, to be fiscally prudent and given the lackluster winter economy this past season, zero growth in the number of chamber members should be assumed,” the memo continued.

ACRA officials believe they can increase the chamber’s income without increasing membership dues. They anticipate receiving $405,000 in dues, along with $25,000 from the Skico.

Total income is projected at about $795,000.

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