WESTERN SAN JUANS – For some, it’s a merger that has been a long time coming and now it’s been finalized. Officials with the Telluride Montrose Regional Air Organization announced on Tuesday it has signed a management services agreement with the Telluride Tourism Board to oversee its operations – including personnel supervision, administration, strategic planning, fundraising and marketing efforts.
Since the two organizations both underwent separate reorganizations in the early 1990s, many observers wondered why organizations with such similar goals didn’t work more closely with one another. On Tuesday that question was finally put to rest when the agreement was signed.
The move not only signifies the two entities will work more collaboratively and efficiently together as one, but it is also a step toward a more regional effort to bring visitors to Telluride, Ouray, Ridgway, Montrose, Gunnison and Crested Butte.
“This partnership will give the destination the collaborative strength to build momentum for existing inbound markets as well as develop a better awareness regionally of the economic benefits of both the Telluride and Montrose regional airports,” Telluride Tourism Board President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Martelon said when the announcement was made. “Ultimately, it boils down to collaboration. If you are able to bring as many people as possible into the room and make decisions, it’s going to make a difference. Not that it hasn’t been attempted but it was all happening in different silos.”
TMRAO Board President Dirk dePagter said the decision is important for the region and comes after various entities gave clear direction to do so. The timeline leading to Tuesday’s announcement goes back to when the Telluride Tourism Board was originally formed approximately seven years ago. DePagter said that after TTB was formed there were some members of the community who asked why the air organization and the TTB worked as separate entities.
It is the role of the TTB to bring visitors to the region while it’s the role of the TMRAO to ensure there are airline seats into the region. Over the years, the two entities with separate funding sources, separate boards and separate administration, worked toward a similar goal: Bring visitors to the region.
“If we go back a few years, there was TMRAO and the tourism board,” Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser said. “At times they didn’t speak to one another. Several of us got together and said there has to be at least some communication. It’s got to be a coordinated effort. By having TMRAO actually within the tourism board is going to make it even better and it will be a more positively run organization and more effective.”
Over time, dePagter said, the pressure mounted and change became a possibility.
“Roughly six months ago, [Mountain Village] Mayor Bob Delves came into one of our meetings and said, in no uncertain terms, ‘You guys have to figure this out. We need this to happen.’”
With the task of replacing TMRAO’s Executive Director Scott Stewart, who announced his resignation earlier this year, already on the table, dePagter said the board finally agreed it was time to negotiate with the TTB on how the two could work as one.
“We feel that it is better to integrate one message and one structure,” he said. “In the past, the tourism board controlled the summer message and the Telluride Ski and Golf Co. controlled the branding of the winter message. What is happening now is that we are taking control of the message 365 days a year.” Delves said on Wednesday the restructuring is a step toward solving a larger, regional problem.
“We are fractured,” Delves said. “We just have too many silos of too many organizations with narrow missions. We often don’t cooperate in a harmonious approach to get people to come here.”
Delves listed a number of organizations including TMRAO, TTB, the Telluride Mountain Village Owners Association, the Telluride Ski and Golf Company, the governments of Telluride, Mountain Village, San Miguel County, City of Montrose…
“You can go on and on,” Delves said. “There are a lot of pieces and I think what we need to do is pull down these silo walls and do a better job of working together. This is one that we have been talking about for a long time. The air organization and the tourism board really need to need to be in lockstep on this and hopefully the ski company comes in and supports it as well.”
Telski Executive Director of Marketing and Sales Ken Stone said the reorganization makes sense.
“We are working closely with them for new flights as well as existing flights to maximize all of our resources together,” Stone said. “It’s a good move to put more resources behind the air organization.”
As part of the reorganization, TMRAO has hired Matt Skinner as chief operating officer working with Martelon under the terms of the management services agreement. Skinner brings over a decade of resort industry experience to the organization including past positions on the boards of the Durango Air Task Force and TMRAO. “We are thrilled to have such a dynamic leader join the TMRAO team,” dePagter said. “Matt has a strong understanding of our regional community, the Telluride destination and our core markets that will translate to success for the organization.”
Most recently, Skinner held the position of vice president of sales and marketing at Telski where he collaborated with the TMRAO Board to market the destination and improve air service into the region.
As COO of TMRAO, Skinner will focus on air guarantee and risk mitigation programs, airline revenue and yield management, and developing additional service, partners and funding. Skinner will also have the benefit of Stewart’s history with the organization through an anticipated independent consultant agreement after the first of the year.
“Air service is a critical component of our destination’s long-term success and regional economic sustainability,” said Skinner. “I look forward to building on the existing accomplishments of the organization, and working with the Telluride Tourism Board on these efforts.”
DePagter emphasized that the reorganization is in the best interest of the entire region, especially in light of trends in the travel industry
“The world is shrinking so rapidly,” he said. “We need to be more cooperative within the region and the only way to be more cooperative in the region is if we are joined at the hip here locally. How can we communicate with Montrose, which is vital because of the air and economic base they bring, if we aren’t on the same page here? We need to be lockstep with those guys.”
DePagter went on to say that at some point he would like to change the name of the air organization because it is working to bring visitors to the entire region.
“I would like to see this not be the Telluride-Montrose Regional Air Organization,” he said. “I want it to include and branch out to Ouray, Ridgway, Norwood, Gunnison, Crested Butte. We are a region. We need to operate in this new world as a region if we want to be competitive.”