Vail’s info booths remain VVCTB domain
Council members said the two-year contract was awarded on the basis of who would help out-of-town guests find a room for the night.
The Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau, or VVCTB, has operated the two booths in the Vail Village and Lionshead for years, helping visitors find same-day accommodations under a program that has local lodges paying a percentage-based commission in return for last-minute reservations.
The Vail Chamber and Business Association, or VCBA, for the first time bid to operate the booths – offering assistance with activities, individual restaurants and businesses but no direct help with reservations.
“We felt it is the least political road to take to address the problem,” said VCBA President Kaye Ferry. “We just didn’t want to get in the business (of hotel reservations). We are trying to walk a very neutral line.”
Ferry said the current system is the source of frequent complaints from smaller lodge operators, who claim the “allocation of rooms is not done on an equitable basis.”
Instead, Ferry said, the VCBA would offer visitors a book of lodging information and make a phone available to them to call around and compare rates.
Representatives of the retail and lodging community disagreed with Ferry’s assessment, however, saying marketing is about making the best offer, not the least offensive one.
“It is nice to go to a spot that tells you what’s available,” said Tom Higgins, a retailer in the Vail Village. “If it’s Fourth of July and I had to call hotels, what a waste of my time that would be.”
The two chambers have feuded in the past over who best represents Vail to the outside world on Vail taxpayers’ tab. Representatives of the VCBA, whose membership is automatic for anyone taking out a Vail business license, claim to be Vail’s most loyal salespeople with a “Vail-only” approach to visitors.
Representatives of the VVCTB, a valley-wide business organization with membership dues, have in the past refuted accusations their organization uses Vail town funds to drive business downvalley to Beaver Creek, Avon or Edwards.
VVCTB President Frank Johnson and his employees have advocated themselves as “Vail-first” marketers, saying Vail is the center of attention of booth employees and visitors are only pointed west to Beaver Creek and beyond if services aren’t available in Vail or if demand outgrows supply on busy holiday weekends.
Last fall, the VCBA, then barely a year old, made a short-lived attempt to garner the information booths contract, but pulled out, citing time constraints to come up with a detailed budget. This year, the VCBA offered up a detailed budget and promised to save the town an initial $25,000 over the VVCTB’s bid of $210,000 for one year of information services.
Both chambers promised to staff both booths year-round and provide visitors with marketing material, ranging from a restaurant guide to a walking map to an activities rack, where local businesses can advertise their services.
Despite a lower bid of $185,000 for the initial year and the promise to have at least one more employee in each booth regardless of season, a motion by Councilman Bill Jewitt “to award the contract to the lowest bidder” died on the council table.
Instead, the council in a 5-2 vote, awarded the two-year contract, effective Oct. 1, to the VVCTB, with Jewitt and fellow-councilman Dick Cleveland voting against.
The contract, however, comes with strings attached. Council members agreed the VVCTB’s $210,000 budget will have to be trimmed by $10,500, or 5 percent.
“What has changed my mind is the lodging piece of the puzzle,” said Councilman Chuck Ogilby. “Without it, I think we have lost something that is valuable.”
Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.