Sometimes a couple has to start over to move to a better future

Watching the Gunnison County commissioners in their role as the Local Marketing District (LMD) dance with the board of the valley’s Tourism Association is like watching an attractive middle-aged couple struggling for a happy reconstruction. You can see there were good times and trust in the past. But the time to move on from the current relationship has passed and after some initial anger, both sides seem to understand an amicable settlement is the best way to move ahead. After all, chances are they will always have a connection and at times will have to dance together in the future.
I’ve watched quietly as the last few weeks have included some finger-pointing, some honest reflection, and some admissions (by both sides) of opportunities lost in the relationship. Talks have been taking place that were part love-fest, part negotiation and part mutual agreement—with an underlying sense of tiredness, tension, and some mistrust but hope for the future.

The bottom line is that the LMD was not at all out of line bringing in a consultant they trusted to look at the situation and see if any changes could be made that would make public tax dollars more accountable and effective in the marketing arena. Members of the TA board and staff, past and present, were initially shocked, insulted, pissed and defensive about the move. It seems they have come around to agreeing that some things could be done better but they generally are not yet ready for a complete restructuring. The LMD has admitted that perhaps better communication on their part could have alleviated some of the tension.

In life, everyone usually has a chance to do better (see correction at the bottom of this page). From what I see in these public sessions between the TA and LMD, both sides agree that the marketing board can be made better. It can be made better by cutting the numbers of people on the board and being more streamlined. Both sides seem to agree that getting away from a board elected by members of the local chambers of commerce would be better. With some nudging, both sides appear to agree that marketing the area might be better served if we help take care of the visitors once they get here, and that likely involves some further partnerships with the local visitors’ centers. Both sides seem to agree that other things that could be improved include overall collaboration and messaging, integration of the myriad local promotional websites, and having accountability for results based on comparative markets.
Overall, the call is for a smaller, more efficient, more strategic marketing board. It might be called the TA. It might be called the marketing board of directors. It likely will be formed through appointments by the county commissioner’s LMD role instead of elections through the TA.
All of this seems to make sense. Elected officials, not a private group, should be held accountable for tax dollars being spent. The LMD wants to use the template of the Gunnison Valley Health board that has helped turn things around at the hospital. They want experts on the board with different skill sets that add to the success of the whole.

The LMD wants a professional and detailed business plan to come from the new board. They want it to include both the destination marketing organization aspect as well as the “in-valley” marketing element.
When asked about the possibility of the in-valley elements not adhering to the overall plan, LMD chairperson Paula Swenson pointed out that adherence would be based on “contracts and money.” Those two elements always act as pretty big incentives and should be no different here.
Even this past Tuesday, there was some hesitation about the move from some TA board members. But as board member Jeff Moffett pointed out, “Gunnison County is unique” and should be able to adjust to make it work. “We can do better,” he said.

There it is. This county is “unique” and the people at both ends are getting better at working together. The TA has certainly helped market the valley as a destination for tourists for many years. The TA’s efforts have been a real part of a bigger equation and based on this past summer, I’d say the general equation is definitely working—at least for some things like summer. But we can do better. Sometimes things need to change in order to take the next leap. This discussion and movement is a good start. Including the visitors’ centers in marketing efforts, having more public accountability, defining better metrics for measuring success and streamlining the current bureaucracy are all good steps.
Who would disagree that the TA and LMD have had some recent relationship issues? It is simply time for that couple to restructure what’s turned into a dysfunctional relationship. It is time to move on from the past and toward a more constructive future. The couple is still dancing (a bit awkwardly at times) but there’s no need for a messy custody battle.
It is simply time to do better.

—Mark Reaman

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