Town leaders consider how to spend marketing money among business organizations
VAIL ” With $1 billion worth of redevelopment already underway and planning intensifying for a convention center that could be built within two or three years, Vail’s tourism economy is also being renovated.
But before work is complete, members of the Vail Town Council say they want a more cohesive vision for how the resort town will be sold to the outside world during non-skiing months.
On Tuesday, council members waded into this murky task by hearing requests for funding from groups that market the town and sponsor special events. The council made no decision, but among the central questions seeing renewed debate is whether Vail should be sold separately or as part of the regional attraction known as the Vail Valley.
Two groups ” including the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau ” promote the regional approach. Led by executive director Frank Johnson, the Chamber and Tourism Bureau has a reservations system and also puts on a variety of special events. At its core are hotel operators.
Closely allied with Johnson’s group is the Vail Marketing Advisory Council, which is led by Beth Slifer, wife of Vail Mayor Rod Slifer.
On the other side are the Vail merchants led by Kaye Ferry who, in 1996, began to argue the regional approach was doing a disservice to merchants in Vail. They said the town’s business-license fees should be given to a Vail-specific chamber organization. Beaver Creek and Avon, as they saw it, were not just allies, but competitors like other resorts.
Ferry and supporters got their way, in time creating the Vail Chamber and Business Association and getting the business license fee
Adding to the fragmentation, the town last year created a special events group, which is responsible for events from May through October.
Council members at a recent meeting asked no questions that got at the heart of this local-regional philosophical split. But they did question whether administrative costs are excessive and whether services are duplicated among the various promotional groups.
Getting special interest were the groups’ publications. Ferry’s group puts out something called the Vail Guide, which she defended as representing all merchants in Vail. She wants $30,300 for the publication next year.
But Councilman Kent Logan asked if the town’s subsidy to the publication could be reduced by selling more display advertising. Ferry rejected the idea based on how the Vail Guide is printed. Beth Slifer’s marketing group, in contrast, has shifted support from the Vail Guide and instead wants a more upscale publication.
In making their pitches for funding, the groups tried to represent themselves as having broad-based support. For example, Ferry, who is now executive director of the Vail Chamber group, gets dues of $54,000 and projects $75,000 next year.
Of the 577 business licensees in Vail, 237 are members – a high rate of participation for a chamber, she said. Others at the meeting, however, suggested participation in the Vail Chamber was not particularly high for a resort.
Still, in making her pitch for $134,000 in town funds, Ferry touted the Vail-specific focus of her organization. Referring to Johnson and the Chamber and Tourism Bureau, she said, “Frank doesn’t spend any more time on Vail than he does on Avon.”
Johnson fired back. His organization, he said, is not dominated by personality.
“It’s distressing to me to have things reduced to that,” he said.
Like Ferry, he used the Chamber and Tourism Bureau’s membership numbers to portray the group as having broader support than the Vail organization. Johnson also listed new promotions he said have brought more business to the area at less cost. Special events sponsored by his group, such as the ESPN Flyfishing program, contributed to that achievement, Johnson said.
In sponsoring special events, the intent is to help programs get started so that they can operate on their own, he said To do that, he added, requires having people “with an eye for getting things done.”
Regarding the future, Johnson described several ways his group hopes to become more broadly useful to the community.
He said he wants to get a better grip on the demographics and other characteristics of year-round visitors ” as opposed to ski season visitors, which Vail Resorts keeps careful tabs on.
He also wants to deliver more sales forecast to help get a better picture of occupancy rates. For those two purposes he wants $20,000. In addition, Johnson wants $30,000 to help lead efforts to minimize disruptions to Vail’s economy during the redevelopment work.
And in something of a dig at Ferry’s group, he said one of the larger markets for Vail could be those staying in Beaver Creek.
Also appealing for more money was the town’s special events coordinator, former councilwoman Sybill Navas. She described the events now being sponsored as the “foundation” events for summer weekends. She said she found no logical candidates for losing funding.
And, Navas said, she would like to add events during late August to help sustain business during a time when ever-earlier school sessions have shrunk summer visits. Also, this year’s Labor Day event ” which includes a bike race ” may be expanded into a three-day bicycle event next year, she said. Her total request is for $750,000.
Navas also wants to become the town’s direct link to several cultural events, including the Bravo! music festival, the International Dance Festival, and Hot Summer Nights ” and the $172,000 the town provides.
Observers say the council is sharply divided on how management of Vail’s non-skiing economy can be simplified during coming years. One idea, broached a year ago, is a business improvement district.
But the tricky issue with such an agency is how town leaders can supervise its activities without also micro-managing.