Who will be in charge of Vail’s information centers?
VAIL, Colorado – Does the town of Vail need a new department to do something a private company’s already doing?The town is ready to open a new welcome center at the Lionshead parking structure. Besides the new structure, the center also is filled with various high-tech gizmos to help guide people around town and to its attractions. A committee including Vail Town Council members Kerry Donovan and Susie Tjossem started talking about how the center would work with all that new technology and Tuesday recommended to the entire council that the town should take over the welcome center’s operations, at least for a while.The problem is that the centers are already being run by Bobby Bank, owner of Vail Info Inc. Bank’s company has run the centers since 2005, when it became the third choice in a fierce battle between the Vail Chamber & Business Association and the group that became the Vail Valley Partnership. Both those groups wanted to manage the centers, not least because of the potential for commissions for booking last-minute hotel reservations.Since Bank’s company took over the centers, more than a half-million people have come through the doors and the welcome centers have booked more than $1.3 million worth of hotel rooms, without collecting commissions.Bank talked to council members about that record. And having learned of the committee’s recommendation just a few days before, he presented 22 letters of support for his operation from local businesses.And Dale Bugby, owner of Vail Resort Rentals, was at the meeting to voice his support in person.”I don’t know how the town can do it better,” Bugby said. “Plenty of us remember why we gave the business to them.”Council member Greg Moffet was on the council when Bank was first awarded the welcome-center contracts and said “I still have scars” from those discussions.Moffet agreed that the town couldn’t do as good a job as the private company.”If you put municipal employees in the welcome center, you’re going to get a municipal product – that’s not what we need there,” Moffet said.While Moffet and other council members had a “don’t fix it if it isn’t broken” attitude toward the center, Town Manager Stan Zemler had a different take.”I don’t agree that it’s not broken,” he said. “(Bank has) done a fine job, but there are things we can do better.”Zemler said he’d like to see whoever runs the center “push” the town a bit, to try more innovative approaches to customer service.Town officials and Bank will talk over the next few weeks about how his company can make better use of the new facilities. But, Moffet said, it’s important to remember one thing.”The most important innovation we’ve had there is putting the bathrooms walking distance from the desk,” he said.