EAGLE, Colorado - The Eagle Marketing and Events Committee is nearing the first anniversary since its inception, when a $2-per-night lodging tax went into effect.
Its members have been busy.
Town voters passed the additional lodging tax in November 2011. That $2 fee was combined with a previous $2-per-night tax for open space funding that has been in effect since the 1990s. The new $2 per room, per night fee is used to market the town and increase tourism.
Naturally, the first question that comes to mind is has the marketing committee increased tourism yet? The short answer is yes.
"The lodging revenue has gone up a small amount from last year," said Meg Stepanek, who started her part-time job as the Eagle marketing and events coordinator in March. Prior that, she owned an event-planning business for 10 years and has lived in the area for about 20 years.
Before Stepanek came on, six volunteer members were named to the committee at the end of January. Those members include Pam Boyd, editor of the Eagle Valley Enterprise; Lonnie Leto, AmericInn Lodge and Suites; Jan Miller, Eagle County Facilities; Sheryl Staten, the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District; Erin Vega, Eagle Ranch; and Holly Snyder, NRC Broadcasting.
Stepanek's is the only paid position, and her part-time status is representative of the limited budget the group has to start with.
"Our budget is so small, we have to focus on the low-hanging fruit to begin with," Stepanek said. "Right now, we're only marketing within the state, not nationally."
As more people visit Eagle and stay in its hotels, the committee's budget will grow, along with its marketing and event ambitions.
"I have to answer to the lodges, since the fee pays my salary, so I want to make sure the number of room nights is increasing," Stepanek said. "That means getting more people to come here and stay overnight. One way to do that is by creating events or expanding on existing events."
Another key part of the strategy is advertising - making sure people know Eagle is a worthwhile place to visit.
"We're lucky to have a beautiful mountain setting and interstate access in the middle of Colorado," she said. "In 10 years, I think we could easily pull off 20 events a year."
So far, the lodging tax has been used to improve the town's website that is geared toward visitors - eagle
outside.com - and launch a mobile application for the site (coming soon). It has also been used to create print and TV advertising campaigns and start new events.
"Part of the tax will be used as seed money to help new events," Stepanek said. "It takes about three years to determine if an event is successful. We'll select some events we think have potential, submit them to Eagle Town Board, and those approved by the board will get money from us."
Stepanek said the amount of money awarded to an event will decrease over three years as the event becomes financially independent or fades away.
"We keep a level of control when we contribute money," she said. "We don't just hand it over for people to use however they want. I'll control it by paying directly for advertising in a certain area, things like that."
The committee discussed four possible events at its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, ranging from a two-day mountain-bike race slated for early October to a yoga festival proposed in late spring. The events deemed worthy of funding will be presented to the Town Board in the near future.
The Marketing and Events Committee meetings are at 8:30 a.m. in Eagle Town Hall on the first Tuesday of each month, and the public is welcome to attend.
As far as Eagle's ad campaign, it will include an ad in an outdoor magazine and TV commercials on Channel 8.
"I'm excited to see an ad for Eagle in an outdoor magazine next year," Stepanek said. "The TV ads will be geared toward visitors from the Front Range. Those will run on holiday weekends, with a heavy push near the end of March."
As part of the effort to pursue the "low-hanging fruit," Stepanek said the group is focusing on marketing the seasons when Eagle has great weather - spring and fall. That's why the TV ad campaign will wrap up in March.
"Spring and fall are great times to mountain bike around here, and we have excellent mountain biking," Stepanek said. "Even in the summer, we could attract people from places like Grand Junction, where it's hotter."
"Eagleoutside.com was in the works for a year before I came on," Stepanek said. "That was some awesome foresight - Eagle has some great amenities."
The website is designed to help visitors find whatever they want, where they can find it and how to get there. Maps and detailed information about mountain-bike trails, fishing, parking and hotels are all there. The site even has a link, "Bring your event to Eagle," that leads to information about what kinds of events the town is looking for and a downloadable form to help encourage proposals.
"It's a continued process to make the website easy to use," Stepanek said. "We're working on launching a mobile application in about two weeks that will allow people to do things like locate where they are on a trail."
To get the site to where it is today, the town had a person walk and bike every trail, taking photos along the way.
"Eagle has so many amenities, and our committee is a very eclectic group; we want to have a wide breadth of events," Stepanek said. "This is also a great place for families. We might even attract some of them to move here."
The Get Out Expo and Eagle Mushroom Fest are two existing events that are ripe for building upon, Stepanek said.
"The first canine carnival held here last August also has potential," she said.
Partnerships across the community are essential for economic growth. Even the town of Gypsum contributes to Eagle's success.
"Gypsum doesn't have hotels, and we have worked with them on some events like the Dirty Dozen adventure race and the Gypsum Triathlon," Stepanek said. "Sheryl Staten, manager of the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink, has done an amazing job bringing people in - WECMRD is coordinating a lot of events, and (Staten) is kind of my inside link to Gypsum."
WECMRD operates the Gypsum Rec Center, which plays a big role in organizing the events Stepanek mentioned, plus a few others.
"When I read the committee was forming, I called right away," Staten said. "I knew it was something I had to be a part of. It's been a huge stride to get the connections and entities coming together. It helps us be more efficient, so we're not duplicating events or competing with each other."
Taylor Slaugh, who recently started her job as the first paid administer for the Eagle Chamber of Commerce, echoed the importance of working together.
"I go to marketing meetings and (Stepanek) comes to chamber meetings," she said. "I'm focused on the business community, but there is overlap."
Stepanek said one focus over the summer was to prepare the town for more visitors.
"Each and every person should be an ambassador and happy that tourists are here," she said. "We don't have to fill up hotel rooms like Telluride does in the off-season - we can keep the town small - but we need to sustain and expand our economy to make sure businesses will stay here."
Getting the entire community on the same recreation-based marketing page was the focus of the Re-Discover Eagle event the Eagle Marketing and Events Committee hosted at the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink in September. The committee teamed with local agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, Division of Parks and Wildlife, Eagle County and WECMRD and local businesses and restaurants to let local residents know about its efforts, as well as present a broad picture of community amenities.
"I want to start putting money into the Eagle Regional Visitor Information Center next year," Stepanek said. "Right now, when people come in, they might not realize what is just a half-mile away on Broadway."
She said the town's open space program is planning to build a boat ramp on the Eagle River near the visitor center, which seems very appropriate considering the pairing of the lodging taxes.
"The committee has helped everyone get on the same mindset - get heads in beds," Staten said.