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TTC changes approach to spending

The Pagosa Springs Town Tourism Committee has recently experienced a fundamental strategic shift in how members believe the revenue they gather from the local Lodgers Tax should be spent, thanks in large part to a presentation by Jason Goss, president of Internet Honey, to the TTC’s budget subcommittee.

“What we planned for it to do when we hired them (Internet Honey) to keep track of all of our leads,” TTC Chairman Bob Hart explained, “was to analyze how well our external marketing program was working, and in a nutshell it is working really well—better than any other place in the state.”

“He (Goss) did an average based on region,” TTC director Jennie Green confirmed, “and we are out-performing the average of higher budgets all across the state.”

Goss made the same presentation to the town council at their Nov. 8 budgetary work session and according to his PowerPoint, the TTC’s website (www.visitpagosasprings.com) between Jan. 1 and Nov. 1 had a reach of 102,207 in unique traffic and an engagement of 1,159,845 page views, with the average visitor viewing 7.8 pages and spending just over four and a half minutes on the site.

The statistic Goss seemed most impressed with, however, was the website’s bounce rate, which was only 20.61 percent. The bounce rate is the percentage of visitors to a website who only view the main page and then leave without exploring the site any further.

This means when people come to the TTC’s website, most of them are using it to find out more about Pagosa Country, explore what the area has to offer, plan vacations, and then book rooms at local lodges.

“Something you guys made an investment into this year is called ‘Book Direct,’” Goss explained. “It is a referral engine (it is not a booking engine) and that was with the purpose to provide downstream contribution to the lodging partners without a whole lot of effort on the lodging partner’s side.”

The average bounce rate for all other tourism websites in southwest Colorado is 47.27 percent, and throughout the state regional averages range from 36.25 to 50.64 percent.

“As we got further into the discussion,” Hart continued, “he talked about how he figured all of this out, but then he also went into what other places are spending their money on, how we should spend our money to get the best return on our lodging dollars, and the bottom line is we need to increase external marketing.”

“The cool thing is since he has insight into what everybody else does,” TTC member C. K. Patel added, “he can see what works and what doesn’t, so we don’t have to stumble. We can see what’s working and then we can change what we do to get the maximum return on investment.”

“What Jason’s presentation showed me,” Green affirmed, “is that our infrastructure is spot-on — so the website, mobile focus, phone apps. that we have in development — we have the infrastructure in place; we need to drive more leads to our existing infrastructure, and we will see more conversions. We’re not saturating our marketing efforts, whatsoever, so the more we can spend, the more we are going to see on the downstream contributions, which include bookings for our lodging partners.”

TTC member Jim Smith asked what things they should be spending money on, and while Jennie Green reiterated the need for more advertising and expanding the effort into new market areas, Valerie Green, another TTC member as well as a member of the Lodgers’ Association, said, “Another very important thing he said was that the money we are letting go should be used for our infrastructure, for tourism infrastructure. Events are not bringing us tourists. That is a proven fact. He has investigated it.”

“He was providing insight based on how other destinations allocate their funding,” Jennie Green clarified, “and he’s seen other destinations move away from funding event organizers, and instead move towards funding infrastructure that would bring more event organizers.”

Jennie Green used Fruita as an example where they have switched to providing funding to build more mountain biking trails instead of funding mountain biking events, and Valerie Green pointed to the Pagosa Springs Nordic Club, which invests in grooming equipment and then builds cross country ski trail systems, not only for their own events and competitions, but also for the use of the general public.

“Everybody used to fund events a lot,” Patel explained, “and what others have realized is that instead of funding events, where some of the money is actually going towards paid staff and the event organizer who makes the money, rather than that, these other locations are starting to put the same amount of money into creating more trails or doing something that will encourage events, but is there permanently, like infrastructure.”

At the September TTC meeting, Pam Schoemig read a letter to the editor of the Pagosa SUN written by Cindy Gustafsen in praise of the 2012 FolkFest event, and then responded to the letter by saying, “She stays up there all three days and can’t possibly know what’s going on in the rest of town. The restaurants suffer, some of the merchants suffer, because people will go to the grocery store and then they go up there and stay for three days. The grocery store benefits, but that’s about all. The motels in the area, you would think they would benefit from this, but they don’t. You saw the camping that went on over Labor Day weekend. They were everywhere. I’ve never seen campers like that.”

Schoemig went on to describe the trespassing and destruction of property allegedly perpetrated by festival goers at the Healing Waters Spa, the lack of business at her own lodging establishment, the lack of business she witnessed at various restaurants around town, and the number of people crammed into each camping space on Reservoir Hill.

“Everybody up there is having a great time,” Schoemig said. “There all a bunch of old hippies (and young ones; they are creating a whole new generation of hippies) that want to pack as many people as they can into a vehicle. I would like to suggest that we limit the number of camping spaces up there to benefit lodging more, and maybe more people would be downtown.”

“I did speak with Christa Munro (festival organizer) and I believe I resolved her concerns,” Jennie Green said. “There was apparently a rampant rumor during the event that this would be the last year of the Folk Festival because of the development of Reservoir Hill.”

“Then that’s their decision,” Town Manager David Mitchem responded. “We have said that they are welcome. We have a long term contract with them and they’re welcome to stay as long as they want, so we’ve gone out of our way as a town. We have an on-going commitment to those events.

“I do think there has been some discussion about what the economic impact on the community is of those events, and there’s some debate about that. I appreciate the debate, but we have gone out of our way to let them know they are welcome. I don’t know where the rumor came from, but it’s just non-sense.”

“I think it was probably an anti-Reservoir Hill group,” Valerie Green asserted.

“Wherever those rumors started, they certainly didn’t come from the TTC,” Hart said. “Anything that we may put on Reservoir Hill would not affect that whatsoever. In fact, even if there was talk of moving an amphitheater down to Town Park, the festival would stay on the Hill.”

The proposed development of Reservoir Hill and the amenities the TTC and town manager David Mitchem have presented to town council and gotten approval for were pointed to as a good example of what Goss described as tourism infrastructure, and a more appropriate investment for Lodgers Tax revenue than the funding of individual events.

Larry Fisher, the head of the TTC’s Reservoir Hill task force, reported at the Nov. 14 TTC meeting his efforts to find funding for the project are on hold pending the outcome of a petition drive to get a special election and amend the town charter so that no development can occur on Reservoir Hill without voter approval. This petition drive was discussed at the Nov.12 meeting of The Friends of Reservoir Hill.

However, Fisher, Hart, Mitchem and several other TTC member still planned a hike on Reservoir Hill to tour the proposed placement of amenities, which include a chairlift, an alpine coaster, a zip-line, a tethered hot-air balloon ride, an observation tower, and possibly an amphitheater. Fisher said he would like to know how these new amenities would affect those amenities that already exist on the Hill, such as the festival meadow or the disk golf course.

The walk, which was originally scheduled (and noticed to the public through e-mail and the Town Hall bulletin board) to start from the parking lot behind the Healing Waters Spa at 1 p.m. on Nov. 19, was rescheduled for Nov. 20 at 3 p.m.

In the final TTC budget Green presented to the town council at its Nov. 8 work session, $150,000 had been set aside for external marketing and $80,000 for capital projects (including $45,000 for Reservoir Hill), while only $60,000 had been set aside to fund specific events.

Morgan Murri, the founder of GECKO (Giving Every Child Knowledge of the Outdoors), had asked for $100,000 from the TTC for a special event he has planned for 2013 called Athletes @ Altitude, which would be an Ironman-type endurance race. Since he was also a member of the TTC, Mitchem accused him of having a conflict of interest. Murri has since resigned from the TTC.

ed.fincher@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on November 28, 2012.