TELLURIDE – As Marketing Telluride Inc. reviews the region’s tourist economy for the past year and looks to the year ahead at its annual meeting next week, the organization charged with priming the tourist economy is finding itself short on the cash it needs to do it.
“We’re responsible for driving the economy and we don’t have the ability to as effectively as we would like,” MTI Chief Executive Officer Scott McQuade said at a recent San Miguel Lodging Tax Panel meeting.
“We have never been in such a weak place as far as budgeting is concerned.”
MTI, which is also known as the Telluride Tourism Board, will hold its annual meeting at the Telluride Conference Center in Mountain Village on Thursday, Dec. 10 from 3 to 5 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.
The organization’s 2010 budget projection is a slim $1.06 million, roughly $400,000 less than it had to work with in 2009, and just half of the $2 million recommended by consultants commissioned in 2005 to create a blueprint for what was then envisioned as the region’s main marketing group.
“It’s going to be a challenge trying to drive a $150 million economy on one percent,” McQuade said.
MTI has already reduced its staff by one and one-half positions and is looking to other cost savings measures from the mundane – turning off lights – to the material – driving traffic to its website in order to save on visitor mailing costs – according to McQuade.
“We’re cutting it every place we can,” he said.
The lion’s share of next year’s budget – about 70 percent – will be allocated to marketing and sales efforts.
“The last thing going from our budget is our media buy,” said McQuade. “We need to keep majority of our dollars in sales and marketing and that won’t change.”
With the money it does have available MTI plans to focus on its regional markets in Texas, Phoenix and Denver while maintaining a national media budget.
Additionally, it will move away somewhat from traditional media toward social networking like Facebook and Twitter.
A celebration of the newly reconstructed Telluride Regional Airport runway timed to coincide with the Visa U.S. Snowboardcross World Cup later this month also presents a unique opportunity to capitalize on the presence of international press here covering the Olympic qualifier event.
“We really hope to highlight the airport,” said McQuade. “It’s one of our best competitive advantages.”
But are all these enough?
With such a tight budget, “We can still be effective…it’s a matter of how effective,” McQuade said.
“Certainly not as effective as many of our competitors.”
As local merchants coming out of the normally slow off-season struggle with recession-induced sales shortfalls and look to increased visitor traffic in 2010 to help improve their bottom lines – or perhaps even stay in business – the timing couldn’t be worse.
“The need has never been greater for MTI to pull Telluride out of this, but its resources have never been less,” said McQuade.
MTI is dependant on lodging tax collections for the bulk of its income, and year to date that number is down about 30 percent due to decreased occupancy and lower room rates.
The organization also receives some revenue from Telluride and Mountain Village business license fees, charged to businesses on a sliding scale depending on the number of workers they employ.
As a result, the impact of empty storefronts reaches farther than aesthetics alone.
“When someone reduces staff or goes out of business as a result of the downturn it directly impacts the MTI budget,” McQuade explained.
But as anyone who attends MTI’s annual meeting next week will learn, there may be some good news around the corner.
For example, Ralf Garrison, a destination tourism “supply side expert” and president of the Advisory Group of Denver, Inc., which provides aggregate data on mountain destination guests and advance reservation patterns to MTI, will speak about the trends he has been watching and what he expects might unfold this season.
“There are some signs of optimism out there,” McQuade said.
“We’re holding our own,” he continued. “There’s definitely some positive indicators on the horizon.”
McQuade recommended that anyone who is interested in learning more about Telluride’s visitor economy and where it’s headed attend MTI’s annual meeting, particularly those with related businesses.
“They should certainly be aware of what’s happening, of what makes Telluride tick or not tick,” he said.
“This is the culmination of where all that information comes together.”