Blumenthal: Tourism head brings creative ideas to table
September 25, 2013
It appears I've touched a few raw nerves with my comments concerning the proposed new marketing, special events and group sales business plan.
Not one to let sleeping dogs lie, I thought it might be productive to spend a bit more time on this subject since the proposed plan will be heading to the Town Council soon for its perusal and approval.
The business-plan project was pretty clear-cut. The Town Council asked for a formally written marketing, special events and group sales plan — presumably so it could see a viable path forward, ensuring the productive expenditure of a budget made up of public funds rapidly approaching $6 million a year. With such a plan in hand, hopefully the council would stop meddling in the day-to-day operations of the Tourism Department, which are better left to experienced professionals, and hold Snowmass Tourism and the board accountable to achieve the agreed-upon goals.
Twenty thousand dollars in public funds paid to an outside consultant and many too many months of work were devoted to the creation of this plan. The work could and should have been done in-house at little or no cost to the taxpayers in a two- or three-week time frame, and hopefully it would have emerged a lot shorter and easier to comprehend.
Unfortunately, the plan that emerged is mostly an ambiguous 46-page retelling of the work Snowmass Tourism has been doing already during the past few years. No significant new creative ideas emerged that are likely to improve our resort-based economy, with the possible exception of three ideas discussed below, two of which our new tourism director, Yan Baczkowski, successfully added to the draft plan shortly after his arrival on the job.
Having participated in a discussion at last week's Part-Time Residents Advisory Board meeting with Yan, I walked away with a clearer understanding of his new creative ideas, two of which the plan's drafters unfortunately buried in the bowels of the 46-page volume and a third idea that was not included but should have been.
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The first idea concerned enticing tour operators to add Snowmass and our neighboring regional attractions to their packaged offerings. Although this might meet some resistance from our large hotel operators who would worry over the impact the tour operators would have on their room rates, overall I think it's an idea worth exploring, particularly for our lodge operations that don't have Westin and Viceroy marketing muscle and industry clout.
The next item deserving examination and discussion is the effectiveness of Stay Aspen Snowmass in bringing business to Snowmass. Would we be better off running our own central reservations operation or trying to convince the powers that control Stay Aspen Snowmass to implement changes that would be more beneficial in improving our local lodging business?
The third idea, not included in the plan, was Yan's recommendation to move a good deal of his operation out of its rarefied Town Hall offices and closer to the heart of Snowmass' tourism activities, such as up on the mall. This idea might give our finance director a bit of heartburn since Snowmass Tourism is the only town department charged rent in Town Hall, but overall I think it's a smart move to get the tourism folk out among the people they intend to work with and serve.
Although the business plan is not much to write home about, I'm intrigued by the "take no prisoners" attitude of our new tourism director and wish him well in spite of the fact that the roadmap he'll likely inherit is a bit muddled.
On the breaking-news front, we recently learned Related is pushing out our 35-year-old Village Market in favor of Aspen's long-in-the-tooth Clark's Market.
Two guiding principles I usually use to analyze such news are "follow the money" and "timing is everything."
The former appears obvious, but the latter is a bit more confounding. Inasmuch as Related and Aspen Skiing Co. soon will be appealing to the Town Council to overturn the Planning Department's decision to treat their development application for the proposed Base Village Limelight Hotel not as a minor planned-unit-development amendment but instead as a much more expensive and time-consuming major amendment application, I would assume that the otherwise tactically and strategically astute Related leadership has suffered a case of temporary insanity.
Pushing out a long-term, well-established community commercial operation along with its loyal and long-term employees, many of whom are our friends and neighbors, and then hoping the community would look favorably on its request for leniency is either the height of arrogance or stupidity, neither of which is likely to win it favor in front of the Town Council.
Due to Related's brain fart and the resultant three-month or longer hiatus without a local grocery store, when asked what we're going to eat, our answer is to eat the 1 percent and all Related parts.
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