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TA tells council that summer is great and winter is so-so

Economic development logic explained

By Mark Reaman

Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association executive director John Norton updated the Crested Butte Town Council on its activities and brought the council up to speed with recent TA efforts. He said while the focus on mountain bike promotion has helped summer grow, winter is a conundrum that is seeing little growth.

“We put all our chips on mountain biking in the summer and that seems to have worked,” Norton said at the February 5 meeting. “Winter is focused on skiing and fat biking and that isn’t growing as quickly. Summer has been spectacular, while winter—not so much.”

Norton said that based on comparisons to other mountain resorts, the valley is near the top of the list in summer lodging growth while it remains mired near the bottom of the pack for winter.

“What can we do to turn winter around?” asked Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt.

“Winter needs to be a collaboration between the community and the ski area,” said Norton. “In most mountain communities, the ski resort is responsible for winter marketing and the community focuses on summer. Here, the reason we focus on mountain biking in the summer is because our product is so strong. But we can’t create something out of thin air that isn’t there. That’s my winter answer.”

“Do we need to accept being on the bottom of the list in winter occupancy?” asked councilman Paul Merck.

“You’re asking the wrong guy,” responded Norton. “Skier demand drives flight schedules in resorts. Marketing won’t change the ski world. You need some capital investments and improvements as part of the equation.”

When pressed by Schmidt if there were too many mountain bikers on the local trails in an already busy July, Norton said maybe on the Lower Loop but there were plenty of trails in summer that were empty most days. “We don’t invite people to come in the six weeks starting July first,” said Norton. “We don’t market it and we don’t hold events then. But not marketing summer at all would be a long-term mistake.”

Councilman Chris Haver wondered about the addition of economic development to the TA charge. The Gunnison County commissioners recently asked the TA to go out and see if they could find new businesses to relocate to the county. “I can see working on sustainable tourism as part of the TA and maybe helping with facilities like trailhead bathroom improvements,” he said. “I can see focusing there more than bringing in more businesses.”

“LMD [Local Marketing District] money can’t be used for capital expenditures like bathrooms,” explained Norton. “This new effort is a response to a request from the Board of County Commissioners. If we had said no to them I think they would have taken a chunk of the LMD money to hire others for economic development. That would mean more staff, another group, etc. In my mind, the TA staff is excited about it—we are already out there and traveling and it made sense to put a bit more on our plate.”

“I’m just trying to understand the logic,” said Haver.

“Look at the Film Commission element of the TA,” said Norton. “We have some people coming in this March to shoot a commercial. They come in and get lodging and eat out, so there is the immediate impact. Then hopefully they use footage from here and it might include the iconic peak of Crested Butte. That’s exposure worth a lot of advertising money.”

In response to a question from Schmidt asking if the TA is marketing to the “exploding standup paddleboard market,” Norton said while SUP opportunities were available on the TA website, getting people to Blue Mesa has not been easy. “We have the state’s largest body of water. It is clean and the area is beautiful and the National Park Service says it can handle a lot more visitors. We’ve tried a Beach Bash event the last two summers and it is okay. This year we are coordinating with the KBUT Kampout event to get them to try out Blue Mesa.”

Norton said the TA’s budget has grown the last three years from about $1 million annually to just over $2 million “primarily because of the increase in lodging revenues.” The TA receives funding through the county’s Local Marketing District fund that is financed through a lodging tax. Most of the money goes to marketing, but the TA has also supported programs such as the Crested Butte Conservation Corps and Mountain Manners.

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