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Town Tourism Committee hears complaints about vacation planner

Presenting the layout for a flyer that will accompany mailings of the Town Tourism Committee’s Vacation Planner, consultant Mel Cassio (from the Cassio group, which developed the guide) reported, “There’s no typos ...”

Apparently, that was a recommendation for the flyer. During the past month, a number of local businesses that elected to advertise in the TTC’s annual vacation planner have launched numerous complaints with the TTC regarding the quality of the guide.

Complaints include those about typographical errors throughout the planner (in editorial and ad copy), layout problems with ads (including a page design that appeared to place an additional border on ads and cropped the design of others), fuzzy photography or ad presentation, truncated text and binding that covered text and graphics.

Maps provided in the planner were likewise riddled with errors including location names and placements, as well as graphics and text truncated in the binding or at page borders.

In the listing of local restaurants, some establishments were inexplicably given bold type while others were left unbolded. Likewise, the list of local businesses was wrought with numerous omissions — and, in one case, a duplication.

Finally, the Cassio Group’s “media packet” (with an ad rate sheet and criteria for ad submission formats) promised the guide’s delivery in March 2011, but the planner was not delivered to the TTC or merchants until April — a full month after the promised date (the Cassio Group explained the late delivery was due to problems with the first printing of the planner).

At the TTC’s Fulfillment Subcommittee meeting last Thursday, various business owners aired their displeasure with the quality of the TTC’s planner.

The first complaint came from Patricia Schoffner, Pagosa Springs Visitor Center coordinator and representing the Chamber of Commerce.

“I’ve heard from a number of Ambassadors (volunteers at the Visitor Center) who also volunteer at Chimney Rock and they’re upset that, in the “day trip” section of the guide, there’s no verbiage regarding Chimney Rock,” Schoffner said.

“We missed Chimney Rock?” asked TTC board member Jim Smith.

“We missed Chimney Rock,” Schoffner replied.

While Smith asked if an additional flyer could be included in the mailed-out guides and TTC coordinator Jennie Green said that changes could be made for the online version of the planner, Realtor Lauri Heraty asked if any resolutions had been reached regarding numerous issues surrounding the planner.

Green concurred, stating that local advertisers needed reassurance that their complaints would be addressed and that mistakes would not be repeated.

Heraty was not satisfied, however. “You didn’t address many of the complaints,” she said, “and there are many of them. You’ve got a slew of people who are very disappointed.

“This is a substandard product,” she added.

Schoffner agreed, pointing out that copy from one business’ ad had been used in an ad for another business.

Local business owner Rob Bradshaw addressed the subcommittee board, expressing frustration with his ad in the planner as far as chosen colors and layout problems.

Darlene Cassio (also of the Cassio Group) told Bradshaw that the ad that was run was the ad that she had received. Bradshaw denied that what had been printed was what he had provided Cassio and pointed out that he had, in fact, submitted three different versions of the ad, two of which the group apparently ignored (according to Bradshaw).

Although Cassio said that she had given Bradshaw a free ad in the TTC’s summer pocket guide (a smaller version of the vacation planner), Bradshaw was not mollified.

“Why wasn’t I called back?” he asked. “Why wasn’t I shown a proof? For a year, that’s what I have representing me.”

“No one sent back a proof or asked, ‘Is this the ad you wanted?’” Bradshaw said.

Darlene Cassio said that she had provided a proof to Bradshaw’s fiancee, Kimberly Siler, for approval. Siler denied she had been given an opportunity to approve the ad.

Bradshaw’s complaint was not unique, apparently.

Local Realtor Lisa Reeve expressed similar frustration with her company’s ad.

“These aren’t the colors we discussed,” she said. “It’s fuzzy, it’s hard to read. It doesn’t look professional. I didn’t pay for something that looks like this, I thought I was paying for a professional job.

“I will not advertise in this guide ever again, I’m telling you. End of issue,” Reeve added.

“It upsets me to the core that we can’t do a better product,” Reeve continued. “I will not mail this out to my clients. I’m not proud of this magazine for Pagosa Springs.”

Reeve finished by saying she’d heard complaints from quite a few other advertisers in the area. “This is what you have going on,” she said. “This is what you’re hearing in the community.”

Smith asked the committee, “Is there anything we can do ... to better represent the advertisers who have issues?”

However, if Heraty and Reeve are correct, the issue for advertisers was not only individual ads, but the quality of the entire planner.

Although the Cassio Group heard numerous complaints regarding individual ads and the overall product, they said nothing to address Heraty’s concern stated at the beginning of the meeting. Indeed, numerous times during the meeting, the Cassio Group placed the blame for the guide’s quality on the printer and did not acknowledge any graphics or editorial issues brought up by disappointed advertisers.

“They (the printers) were just in over their head,” said Darlene Cassio.

Several people in attendance appeared incredulous, however, that problems with the guide were solely due to an inept job performed by the printers.

“If you had problems with the printer, why are you taking all the rap?” asked Heraty.

Reeve and Schoffner also asked why, if printing was the primary problem with the planner, the TTC and the Cassio group was providing payment to the printers (the TTC will pay half those costs).

The Cassio group never responded.

“You should have something legal, some recourse,” Reeve pressed. “Did you have a contract?”

“No,” Darlene Cassio responded.

When asked why the TTC chose the Cassio Group for the vacation planner, Green said it was in the interest of saving money and that the company providing the competing bid (The SUN) “refused to work with the TTC” during the RFP process. However, while the Cassio Group was offered a second chance to present during the bidding process, the competing company was offered no such opportunity.

“When we net this out, we’re looking at saving about $25,000,” Green said, adding that the TTC would probably see more savings with the cost of postage.

“We were looking at spending a quarter of our budget,” Smith added.

In a later phone interview, local businessperson Debra Brown said Green had told her that there was a $50,000 difference in price.

“They kept talking about the money they saved,” Bradshaw said in a later interview. “Every now and then, you have to spend money to make money.”

“At the meeting they said they weren’t interested in putting out a ‘coffee table guide’ like the last one,” Bradshaw said during that interview and referring to The SUN’s Official Visitor Guide. “But when they were selling me the ad, I was told it was going to be as good if not better than (The SUN’s visitor guide).”

“I smelled a rat,” Brown said, referring to the Cassio Group’s pre-publication sales pitch. “I pretty much got strong-armed over the pocket guide. He (the Cassio Group’s sales representative) was begging me to advertise. He kept calling me and threatening me that I wouldn’t have a spot.”

Echoing a common sentiment among business owners, Brown added, “My budget is out of control as far as advertising.”

Dissatisfied with the TTC’s current planner, Brown also reported that she was not given a chance to approve her ad.

“I was shocked,” she said. “The pictures were blurry. We weren’t told there was going to be a red border.

“The paper, the quality, there was no comparison to guides from previous years,” Brown said.

Despite numerous and vocal complaints at the TTC’s Fulfillment Subcommittee meeting, the TTC board appeared sanguine regarding the planner during its meeting last Tuesday.

“If I was somewhere down in Texas and got a copy of the guide, I’d be perfectly happy with that guide, with all the information included,” said TTC president Bob Hart.

TTC board member Daniel Gonzales said, “I think, of the minor issues, it’s number one, the paper quality, second of all they didn’t proof it the way they should have and third, the delay in fulfillments.”

Smith said he thought that issues with binding was delaying delivery of sufficient guides to the Visitor Center and that picking up planners from the printer in Albuquerque cost the TTC about $400-$500.

With issues surrounding the Cassio’s 2011 vacation planner, the board pondered the TTC’s future in producing guides for prospective visitors.

“We need to ask ourselves, do we need a coffee table guide or do we just want a functional handout that just has the basic information? And for some communities, I couldn’t even find a guide. You had to view it online and print it out if you wanted a hard copy,” Smith said.

While the TTC has an obligation to consider how best to spend tax dollars (the board is funded by taxes collected from town lodging establishments), the ultimate decision resides with the Pagosa Springs Town Council (which approved the Cassio Group contract last year).

In fact, in its capacity of oversight on the functioning of the TTC, council has yet to address issues raised by advertisers, apparently oblivious that many local businesses have leveled numerous complaints regarding the planner.

Secondly, council has not questioned Green regarding purported savings realized with this year’s planner — Green has said the difference was $50,000 on one occasion, $25,000 on another.

It remains to be seen if council will raise those questions or will initiate that discussion.

Whether or not that discussion will take place, the TTC has indicated that the Cassio Group will not be producing next year’s planner.

Following comments made by Darlene Cassio at last Thursday’s meeting, Green told the TTC Tuesday that, “I think we’ll have to go with another vendor. I don’t think the Cassios are interested in pursuing another contract.”

jim@pagosasun.com

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