Town Talk: Snowmass council eyes work session to discuss tourism, labor impacts |

Town Talk: Snowmass council eyes work session to discuss tourism, labor impacts

Snowmass Town Council to consider ways to manage expectations, meet local needs

Snowmass Town Hall on May 3, 2020.
Maddie Vincent/Snowmass Sun

When Snowmass Village Town Council members delved into area-wide labor issues and changing community character at a meeting in mid-July, Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk suggested that a work session on the topic happen “sooner rather than later.”

Now it just boils down to pinpointing a date on the calendar following another council discussion on the issue at an Aug. 2 regular meeting about how growth, tourism and labor supply are impacting the village.

Town staff and council members floated Aug. 9 as a potential date during the meeting but are now working to reschedule, assistant town manager Travis Elliott wrote in an Aug. 3 email.

The Aug. 2 conversation marked the second time in as many meetings that Councilman Bob Sirkus has raised concerns about the dire straits of a stretched-thin local workforce and a booming tourism market that doesn’t yet show signs of slowing down.

He first mentioned the issue at a July 19 meeting during council reports and actions; this time around, it was approval of the consent agenda — typically an item that takes no more than a minute or two — that spurred nearly a quarter of an hour of discussion.

Sirkus said he hoped to get the work session in the books before annual municipal budget review kicks into high gear in the fall because he would like to reevaluate how the marketing budget is used to attract visitors to the town.

The goal, in part, would be to “relieve some of the pressure” that the region’s workforce feels as visitation continues to grow while eking out a viable living year-round gets harder for locals, Sirkus said.

The current labor shortage and trends in mountain-town visitation mean many businesses in the town are facing a greater demand for services and a limited supply of people to provide those services.

“In more recent conversations with some of the local workforce, a number of them have said to me that there’s a disconnect between the visitor’s idea of what they expect, their expectation of what kind of service they can get here, and the reality of the level of service we can provide given the fact that we’re short of labor,” Sirkus said.

Restaurant reservations are elusive these days, events have been canceled due to a lack of staff and some businesses have had to turn down clients because of the shortage, The Aspen Times reported in mid-July. Ongoing challenges like a shortage in affordable housing and long commutes to work are in some cases compounded by the frustration that comes from experiences that are now harder to come by.

“This disconnect is creating a big part of the problem where visitors are disappointed, and the staff is overworked and under pressure and in some cases not treated very well,” he said.

A different approach to marketing may need to involve managing expectations for visitors, Sirkus suggested.

“The marketing really should represent the level of service that’s achievable, and the marketing shouldn’t go beyond what they’re going to be able to do because it creates false expectations for the customer,” Sirkus said.

Town staff have begun having those conversations internally, town manager Clint Kinney said during the meeting.

“When we talked about it, it’s not so much investment, but how it’s invested and how do you do it well, and how do you make sure that experience is right?” Kinney said.

Staff will invite representatives from the tourism department and the related marketing, group sales and special events board will be invited to the work session, he said.

Now is a pertinent time to be having these conversations, according to Kinney, and not just because they’re related to the upcoming budget season.

“At the risk of being overly obvious, as Base Village continues to grow, we’re going to have more and more of this coming in. … We know the issue is not going away, so the question becomes, ‘How do we stay ahead of the curve?” Kinney said.

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