Bathwater goes, baby stays?
Tensions between the Gunnison Board of County Commissioners and the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association seemed to have eased at a joint work session on Tuesday, October 28, with both groups agreeing that fixing the valley’s troubled marketing apparatus is better than starting all over again.
The commissioners, acting as the Local Marketing District board, convened the meeting to discuss the findings of a report they’d commissioned to improve the valley’s tourism marketing effort.
When the report was first presented, TA board president Jim McDonald and others expressed their displeasure with the findings, which might have reduced the role the TA plays in marketing the valley. In fact, part of the recommendation was to put the TA’s various jobs in marketing the Gunnison Valley out to bid.
Instead, the October 28 work session focused on ways of possibly preserving the TA in name and function, while restructuring the organization to be more accountable and focused on results that “put heads in beds and cheeks in seats,” as commissioner Phil Chamberland put it.
Speaking for the TA, board member Ken Stone said, “I think there’s a lot of alignment with certain areas of this study and from our discussions we feel the Tourism Association is really the best foundation on which to build a new body or organization that meets the desires that we’re all seeking.”
That set the tone for the meeting. When commissioner Paula Swenson suggested finding better ways to measure the effectiveness of the TA’s marketing strategy, Stone agreed. “We’re looking for efficiencies and ways we can do things better,” he said.
Everyone agreed there needed to be more separation between the chambers of commerce and the TA, and that the current 11-member TA board was too big and should be replaced by the recommended seven-member marketing board of directors, comprised of experts in the field.
Chamberland said he felt the TA is the best place to start building a new marketing organization, saying, “This process has brought out some issues that make it seem that the TA is not being as effective as it could be.” But he said he was concerned that the marketing effort could suffer while everyone focused on the restructuring. “We can’t afford a hiccup,” he said.
Rebuilding means the TA will have to continue working as it does now, while subcommittees and the board work to rewrite by-laws, develop goals and ways of measuring performance, and negotiate contracts.
Stone said one of the concerns the board had going into a restructuring was the scope of the TA mission relative to the size of its budget. “There was some fear that the entity that was suggested would be much broader and the small amount of money that was available would be spread too thin,” he said. “There was also a concern that this would amount to an economic development fund and be really diluted and broad.”
Commissioner Jonathan Houck didn’t think that would be the case since the mission would still be to market the whole Gunnison Valley experience. He also supported everything that had been said. “This isn’t a horrible train wreck we’re trying to put back together,” he said. “I think from the LMD board, we should ask, ‘What can we do better in our communication and our expectations?’“
Swenson added that the newly formed marketing board of directors would need to be prepared to take on the challenge of the restructuring, starting with a subcommittee.
To start the process of restructuring the TA, the commissioners asked the board of directors to form a subcommittee to define the marketing mission and hammer out details about who would be eligible for board appointments. Houck asked for a collaborative approach to the board appointments to make sure the most qualified people got the posts.
The county’s attorney will work to rewrite the organization’s by-laws while the commissioners start working on the appointment process. The group will reconvene as soon as next week to discuss the next steps in the process and discuss the work that’s been done. A timeline was discussed but none was set.