Mt. Crested Butte town council considers how to market town

Admissions tax grants, transportation, hiring a coordinator, sustainable messaging

[ By Kendra Walker ]

The Mt. Crested Butte town council discussed various ideas for how to market the north end of the valley and their town in particular during a March 2 work session. Further refinement of admissions tax grant criteria, upping the percentage of funds allocated for transportation, hiring a marketing coordinator and focusing on sustainability messaging for the north end of the valley were all ideas up for consideration.

Grant criteria
The council has continuously expressed the desire to move away from using their admissions tax grant funds toward general marketing campaigns that focus on the entire valley, and instead target specific events that directly bring people to Mt. Crested Butte. Council members agreed that more targeted, event-specific marketing would help bring people to town and show a clearer return on investment.

“I would rather see our grants become more event-focused up here with things that specifically bring people to Mt. Crested Butte,” said mayor Janet Farmer.

“We’re not interested in clicks,” council member Dwayne Lehnertz said about general online awareness campaigns. “A click doesn’t tell us how effective we’re being. Dollars, amounts, reservations… That’s something I can understand.”

“I’d like to see [funding events] be a smaller piece of the pie,” said council member Nicholas Kempin, in favor of reducing the percentage given out from admissions tax grants. “And for things that take place entirely in Mt. Crested Butte.”

“I’m not in favor of just reducing the percent, if there’s enough interest out there I think we should fund it,” said council member Michael Bacani. He noted several successful Chamber of Commerce programs, including Mountain Money and Light Up the Night, that have brought people to visit and spend money in Mt. Crested Butte.

“I’ll agree there’s still value in the program,” said council member Roman Kolodziej. “But I want to make sure we get away from zeroing out the checking account and maintain a reserve for marketing,” he said, referencing the economic impacts of COVID. “So if we do see another downturn we at least have some marketing funds in reserve.”

“Awareness to me relates to how many people know we’re here,” said Dwayne Lehnertz. “If we look at December sales tax receipts, we’re slaying it from people coming here and spending money… Is that sufficient? From my perspective… yes, there’s plenty [of awareness].”

Lehnertz continued, “There are plenty of people who know we’re here, and spending more dollars to get more people here before we have transportation infrastructure in place that can actually mitigate the impact of having all those people here… I don’t think that’s the smart way to go. Put money into infrastructure so that when we do encourage people to come here, we have infrastructure in place to reduce those impacts.”
Per the admissions tax fund criteria, at least 25 percent of the funds are reserved for transportation. Currently the town gives 50 percent of the admissions tax money to transportation, which typically goes toward Mountain Express funding needs.

Some council members liked the idea of bumping up the transportation funding to 75 percent of the admissions tax collections, but others felt that didn’t leave enough for achieving the town’s marketing goals.
“Until we have a more concrete picture of what [Mountain Express’] plans are… To leave us with only 25 percent for doing events and paying for a marketing coordinator I think leaves that on the slim side,” said Farmer.

Hiring a marketing coordinator, town identity
The council discussed the possibility of hiring a marketing coordinator to help the town achieve its goals, using a percentage of the admissions tax fund. The thought would be that this hire could also help the town determine Mt. Crested Butte’s identity moving forward and how best to market that through social media, campaigns or events.

The council recognized that Mt. Crested Butte is often “the bedroom” of the valley, but has also expressed the desire to be known for more than just lodging and the ski resort.

“We don’t have quite the same things that the town of Crested Butte has,” said Koelliker. “It’s hard at times to have a cohesive marketing message.”

“Besides the ski area, what is it that Mt. Crested Butte is known for or what would we be marketing the awareness of?” said Bacani.

One idea is to focus on marketing sustainability and environmental awareness for the entire north end of the valley. All of the council members expressed their enthusiasm for this approach.

“It could look like a lot of different things,” said Koelliker, explaining the various avenues – hiring someone to help create that sustainable image, working with hotels to put informative signs in rooms, explaining where designated camping is located, educating folks on best practices.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Bacani. “How do we get rid of the guests who go to Clark’s and pick up four cases of bottled water, when our water’s cleaner than that bottle of water because it’s coming from right behind me.”

“Are we talking more about education or kind of incorporating our guests into our culture?” asked Kolodziej. “We deal with the impact of those people not conducting themselves properly or not realizing we have a bus service that can serve them…Hopefully we cultivate a better customer.”

“Exactly, Roman, it’s bringing them into our culture by educating them,” said Lehnertz. “Some people are going to come here and they are going to have similar values – Leave No Trace, stay on the trail – that will be their ethos. Some don’t have that ethos because they haven’t been educated. Taking the time to cultivate the area through education is probably the best marketing we can do to preserve our environment.”

“If we get loved to death and the thing we all love about being here gets destroyed in the end then we’ve lost a lot and certainly gained nothing,” agreed Kempin.

“And we haven’t been doing our job,” added Lehnertz.

“We also need to be conscious of not duplicating efforts or being super redundant in efforts,” added Kolodziej. “There’s a handful of non-profits doing the same things. We should be trying to complement what’s already out there.”

“These are still marketing funds,” Koelliker reminded the council. “We can’t launch an entire sustainability plan from marketing funds, but we can certainly market our valley or our town or the north end of the valley as a sustainable destination.”

“I think all these thoughts and ideas area great,” said Farmer. “This isn’t something that I see as something that the council has the time and availability to do, and right now our staff is running short… so I really think the best way is to hire someone who can put all this information together for us, weigh all the possibilities and options and bring to us what they think works the best.”

Council plans to continue weighing their options, but for now the upcoming grant cycle will not be affected by any changes. Applications for the grant were due by March 11 and the council will hold a special meeting to review applications on March 30.

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