Times’ editorial missed point of ‘Free Gas’ promo
Last week, the Aspen Times Weekly published an editorial entitled “Aspen’s trying something new this year, and it feels low budget. Maybe a little too low budget.”
The Times was referencing the “Aspen’s Got Free Gas” promotional effort, which was designed to take advantage of the TV and print media’s fixation with the rising price of gasoline. The Free Gas promotion, created by ACRA in conjunction with a group of Aspen lodging properties (all lodges were invited to participate), and the Aspen Store/Shell, generated an enormous amount of free publicity at a key time for the summer tourist season. Many regional and national media picked up the story, including USA Today, the Weather Channel, ABC national radio, CNBC, Channel 9/KUSA/Denver and national NBC TV affiliates, Time magazine and more, generating easily over $1 million in media value.
The Times editors made several points that I would like to address. The editorial stated that this community (Aspen) has done everything to discourage cars.
The Free Gas promotion is not about encouraging cars ” it is about encouraging tourists to come to Aspen, instead of going to another destination. Aspenites know that Aspen is a paradise, especially in the all-too-brief spring/summer/fall, with the plethora of outdoor and cultural activities at our fingertips. But if tourists don’t visit Aspen to begin with, they will not attend the key events and attractions that the Times references, they will not experience Aspen and they will not become loyal guests who return year after year.
Bringing new loyal enthusiasts to our town, who appreciate Aspen’s unspoiled beauty, accessibility via bicycle and foot power, dining, shopping, unique hospitality, and all of the cultural events, helps to ensure a healthy economy ” a benefit for all residents.
The Free Gas promotion was designed to provide visitors a financial incentive to come to Aspen via car, not to encourage driving around once they are here. Much like Aspenites who drive to, say, Moab, Aspen tourists often park their cars for their holidays and then ride their bikes or hike before getting in their cars to drive home. Once a tourist arrives in Aspen, whether by plane or automobile, the lodges and the visitor’s centers should, and do, encourage use of RFTA, bicycle, and walking.
The editorial also suggested that tourists do not need an automobile once they are here, as all of the backcountry is accessible by foot or bicycle. I disagree with this blanket assessment. To reach some of the backcountry, a car is necessary. As an example, except for hitching a ride or biking, (or taxi), there is no transportation to all of the amazing backcountry up Independence Pass, or to Cathedral, American or Pearl Pass hikes. In addition, Aspen’s visitors are different ages and fitness levels. Not all of our guests can bike or walk the same distances as a fit Aspenite. And even the most fit and environmentally conscious locals may drive to the Grottos or other locations for a family excursion with their children.
The purpose of the “Aspen’s Got Free Gas” promotion was to draw publicity to Aspen and induce people to come here. Would the Times prefer that only walkers and bikers come to our town? Or are they suggesting that we also discourage guests from flying into Aspen? Preliminary research indicates that flying is significantly less environmental than driving an automobile. (Specific comparisons of the environmental impact of driving versus flying depend upon many variables.) If tourists did not drive or fly here, Aspenites would have a lot of seats for arts and cultural events and dinner reservations would be easier to come by, but it would put us on the fast track for the next edition of “The Quiet Years.”
Auden Schendler, director of environmental affairs for Aspen Skiing Company, and a respected environmentalist, suggested to me that spending $75 to contribute towards a visitor’s gas is no different than spending $75 in marketing dollars to get the tourist to Aspen. The only difference is the added benefit of free publicity through a well-timed and newsworthy promotion, therefore increasing the leverage of those marketing dollars.
Contrary to the Times’ editorial, the Free Gas promotion is not ACRA’s entire or only summer campaign, but one small public relations and promotional initiative. ACRA’s marketing campaign is a multitiered approach that includes print and Web advertising, direct mail, public relations, promotions and collaborative partnerships. Those who have seen the current Aspen ads, created by the Sterling-Rice Group, have commented that they may be the best Aspen ads ever created to communicate the beauty, adventure, culture, arts, dining and shopping that make up the Aspen experience. The summer public relations efforts are also designed to pitch the multidimensional nature of Aspen to targeted media. In fact, one of the particular story pitches that has been well received is “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” This media pitch is about Aspen’s environmental efforts ” from the city’s free parking program for hybrids, to the shared car program, to the many environmental groups that can be credited with helping preserve the environment of the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond.
As an aside, Aspen’s marketing budget is significantly smaller than other Colorado resorts, not even taking into account resorts and tourist towns that Aspen competes with throughout North America. Many travel experts say the only thing that travelers are universally short of is time. Aspen is competing for a potential guest’s time, and our marketing is designed to encourage them to choose Aspen as a vacation destination. The free gas promotion accomplished what was intended: It extended the power of limited marketing dollars and provided an outlet to reach potential guests with an incentive to choose Aspen.
For information on the “Aspen’s Got Free Gas” promotion, visit http://www.aspenchamber.org, and click on the free gas icon, or call (970) 925-1940.
Maureen Poschman is president of Promo Inc., which is contracted to handle public relations for Aspen/ACRA. An Aspen resident, she happily rides her town bike when possible to work, shop, dine out and participate in Aspen’s rich cultural life.
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