“Ready to move forward”
It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) used that adage to its advantage this week. Responding to hesitation over its recent partnership with the Gunnison Crested Butte Tourism Association (TA), CBMR representatives brought a mock-up of a web page to its most recent meeting with the Board of County Commissioners.
The point? To assure the commissioners and Gunnison Valley lodging properties that the landing page for a valley-wide travel package would live on the TA web site, with TA branding. And visitors purchasing a package would be pointed directly to the location of their choosing. CBMR was nowhere to be found on the mock-up: instead, visitors would choose between the Gunnison area, downtown Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte, or for the non-alpine skiers, ice fishing or Nordic ski packages.
“We would like to support both chambers [of commerce] through this effort, so the lodging members of both chambers would be represented under the umbrella,” said Scott Clarkson, CBMR’s vice president of marketing and sales.
“Even if they’re not a marketing partner, they could take advantage of this,” said Jane Chaney, the TA’s executive director.
CBMR and the TA met with the commissioners on December 20 for a final decision on whether or not $200,000 of the Local Marketing District’s reserves would be spent on incremental marketing through the TA. Of that money, $92,000 would be earmarked for winter, with the remainder spread out through the fall, summer and spring.
While the commissioners ultimately approved the expenditure, they wanted clarification on CBMR’s role in the winter marketing—as an execution partner and not a funding recipient—and the TA’s capacity to take on extra work.
The bulk of the winter marketing focused on a proposed “Paradise Package,” offering visitors a steep discount on lodging and lift tickets. CBMR would offer lift tickets at 15 percent below the already discounted rate. According to Clarkson, that would mean an average lift ticket discount of 35 percent.
In return, CBMR asked that participating lodging properties discount their rates an additional 15 percent below existing discounts. That concerned commissioner Paula Swenson, who noted that some Gunnison properties are already offering steep discounts for Gunnison Getaway promotions.
“Have you seen the difference between Gunnison rates and Crested Butte rates at that time of year? I know a lot of Gunnison people are down to extremely low rates already. I don’t know if we’d be able to get them to participate,” Swenson said.
“We’re just trying to be equitable here,” said Clarkson. “The partners involved should be partners involved. If they need the business, they’ll do it.”
Chaney suggested that participating businesses could discount their published rates by 20 percent, and then a further 15 percent off of that. Or the Gunnison Getaway could be marketed as a separate component of the Paradise Packet, so that proprietors already offering steep discounts would not have to compromise further.
“I think what CBMR is offering is a fair opportunity for lodging properties to participate,” Chaney said.
The idea behind CBMR’s proposal is to give participants a package they can promote on their own, but would also be marketed through the TA via a wide range of online marketing. Additional messaging would include air travel, but purchasing an airline ticket would not be required.
Instead, the proposal suggested expanding CBMR’s “Friends and Family Fly Free” program to participating lodging properties, as well as offering frequent flier miles as incentive to fly to Gunnison. For every two tickets purchased, LMD funds would cover the third under “Friends and Family Fly Free.” Or visitors could opt to receive 5,000 frequent flier miles if they booked their ticket on American Airlines.
The catch for both of these promotions? CBMR would have to handle the reservations through Crested Butte Vacations (CBV). The third-party reservation system the TA uses does not have the capacity to do so, and local lodging owners have expressed great concern that CBV would direct those bookings to CBMR properties.
But Jeff Moffett, director of CBV, said that CBMR would provide a list of lodging properties benefitting from the reservations. He also guaranteed that CBMR would only invoice the county for bookings for non-CBMR properties, guaranteeing that county funds went to county-wide properties.
“As we said, we don’t necessarily prefer to be the call to action but if it can’t be [the TA], we’re willing to [handle reservations], and I think it may ultimately result in more people buying seats on planes flying in here, which reduces the RTA’s exposure and ultimately keeps the air program in Gunnison,” Moffett said.
“Those are the details that could allay some of my concerns,” said Commissioner Hap Channell. He and the commissioners have been vigilant about making sure LMD funds promote the entire county, and do not favor CBMR because it initiated the discussion. The topic has garnered a lot of attention, and a few local business owners attended Tuesday’s meeting to address the same concerns.
Andrea Green, representing the Downtown Crested Butte Lodging Association, wanted clarification that any commission for CBV would be equal to the commission earned by the TA’s reservation system. Both receive 15 percent. And Pam Williams, owner of Island Acres in Gunnison, expressed concern that the TA did not represent the needs of smaller businesses like hers.
“You are my most expensive [marketing venue], and yet that’s where I get not much for my money. If it was voluntary, I probably wouldn’t do it,” Williams said.
But Joe Fitzpatrick, the town manager of Mt. Crested Butte, spoke in favor of the incremental funding. “Mt. Crested Butte’s sale tax revenue, 71 to 73 percent of it comes in the winter. And I can sense that the coming winter is soft, and it’s critical that we do something and be as proactive as we can to try to fix it,” he said.
The commissioners largely spoke in favor of the plan before formally approving the incremental spending—including the airline promotions.
“This is county-wide. Whether certain times of the year, certain parts of county benefit more or less, that’s just the way our economy works here,” said Commissioner Phil Chamberland.
Because the funds would go the TA, and CBMR was an execution partner only, he had no hesitations. “I have faith in CBMR to accomplish this… and I’m comfortable with TA’s capacity to do this… I have no issues and I’m ready to move forward with it,” said Chamberland.
“I really like that CBV is only charging the TA and the LMD for those bookings that are being booked,” said Swenson, who made the motion to approve the incremental funding.
“Even though I am a little reluctant on the areas I mentioned, Jeff [Moffett] is making accommodations to guarantee that the incentive is to push money valley-wide. That being my primary concern, I’m going to support as well,” said Channell.
Winter marketing will start as early as January.