HFor a few years at the outset, The Sheet would hold anniversary parties at the Clocktower Cellar where Mac and I would bartend and donate the tips to charity (Mac and I were not the charity).
At the 2nd anniversary party, a guy sitting at the bar said something like this to me, “You know, I like your paper, but it looks like crap.”
It did look like crap. I was all ears. The guy’s name was Nils Davis and he was a graphic designer and I hired him off that barstool to redesign The Sheet.
His redesign remains in place 13.5 years later and I have zero plans to touch it. He did a fantastic job. And I was smart enough not to interfere. (Actually, this is bullshit. My daughter had just been born. I didn’t have the time or inclination to micromanage).
I tell you this story in preface to what I’m going to tell you about what I learned at the joint Mammoth Lakes Town Council/Planning and Economic Development Commission workshop.
Mammoth’s Public Works Dircetor Grady Dutton, who has recently been appointed to serve as Czar of The Parcel (aka Grady Acres), gave what amounted to a pre-planning update.
Now, a few housing experts (among them Jennifer Halferty and not among them Kirk Stapp) have suggested to me that a lot of what Dutton and Town Staff is now doing in pre-planning (which takes time and money) would have been done by the developer had the town chosen to issue a Request for Proposals to solicit a developer to do the project.
So I went to the podium and I asked Council why it had decided to appoint Dutton versus hire an expert in the field.
And Dutton’s response was as follows. “We have to have a base of knowledge to move forward,” he said. After the staff acquires this base of knowledge, it was suggested that that would be the time to engage a developer.
My comment Wednesday in reply was that this sounds like an incredibly expensive staff training exercise. And to relate it to my own experience, imagine if I had said to Nils Davis, “Well, that sounds like a wonderful idea. Let me take a graphic design course and get back to you.”
Well, that would have taken several months, and then, after I’d taken the course, one can imagine that my next step might’ve been, “Geez, now that I’ve taken a course and I know the nuts and bolts of InDesign … why should I hire Nils Davis to do this project? I’ll just save myself some money and do it myself!”
The problem with this scenario is that it implies that acquiring some knowledge about the topic suddenly transformed me into a talented expert – which I’m not. More than likely, my design would have been half as good, taken me twice as long and taken me away from the things I’m actually good at (putatively writing and drumming up business). Never mind the redesign would have been delayed by a year.
So my message to Mammoth’s Town Council is pretty straightforward: Hire a pro. Get the hell out of the way. And reassign Mr. Dutton to the job you hired him to do in the first place. It will lead to a better outcome, and very likely save you money in the process.
Now onto my flogging of Sheet reporter Tim Gorman. He submitted a “news” story last week on commercial air service to Denver, but didn’t interview anyone about the experience. No one from United, no one from Mammoth Lakes Tourism, not even fellow passengers.
It wasn’t news. It was an unresearched op-ed based upon narrow experience.
So I reassigned the story this week. This is what he wrote:
The loss of Alaska Airlines has had an effect on the number of passengers flying through Mammoth Yosemite Airport. Recorded FAA enplanements through the airport were down 51% for the month of December year-over-year from 2017 to 2018, from 3,777 to 1,865. This number does not include flights through JetSuite X, because it is a charter service and not counted by the FAA.
Mammoth Lakes Tourism Executive Director John Urdi said that JetSuite X’s enplanements would not represent a significant number because it started flying December 19th and only flies four days a week.
A culprit for the decrease in passengers, according to Urdi, is the switch of carriers from Alaska to United.
“Since the Los Angeles flight switched from Alaska to United there has been a re-education process. We need to let people know that this flight has been replaced and is not just gone.”
Urdi said that a flight needs a couple of years to gain the awareness that will bring load factors up.
This is especially true of the flight between Mammoth Yosemite and Denver International Airports, which is completely new this year.
That flight’s load factor is currently sitting at around 50%, asserted Urdi. “That flight is pacing a little behind where we would like to see it.”
MLT is marketing the new flight to the Denver audience, but a first year flight often struggles with awareness.
The JetSuite X flight through Burbank originally had similar load factors to the Denver flight, but now that it is in its third year its load factors are closer to 70%, according to Urdi.
MLT is hoping the the IKON pass will also bring the Denver audience to Mammoth, as skiers from mountains like Steamboat and Copper now have Mammoth included on their passes.
MLT is authorized to subsidize up to $1.5m for flights during the winter, and between $800k-$1m in the Summer. Anything above $1.5m in the winter is covered by Mammoth Resorts.
While Gorman was speaking to Urdi, I spoke to Embark Aviation’s Clint Ostler about his take on the sudden drop in enplanement numbers. Embark is the Town’s air marketing consultant.
Ostler’s explanation was that air service traffic is tightly connected to weather, and you really only see an uptick in bookings 30-35 days out from that first significant snowfall.
He said bookings have rebounded nicely in January but are still a little below projection.
He did not attribute any drop in bookings to an airline change. No matter what travel site you surf, United flights are always going to pop up. He said there is always a sluggish ramp-up period when it comes to reintroducing seasonal service.
The difference between last year and this (both not having early snow) is that last year, Alaska had two daily flights to L.A. and another daily flight to San Diego.
This year, United has one daily flight to Southern California. JetSuite X also has flights whose combined seats don’t add up to a second flight. So if you halve the seats, well, it would stand to reason you’d halve that traffic.
Ostler did note that JetSuite’s traffic has been very strong this year.
Another point of optimism. Ostler believes the “geographical mix” is much better with Denver in the lineup, even if Denver’s load factor has been sluggish thus far.
The theory being every passenger from Denver is most likely a unique visitor.
As an example, he pointed to Aspen’s daily flight to Dallas, noting that just 26% of Aspen’s Dallas traffic is actually from Dallas. The rest are connections.
For now, Ostler preaches patience. “If this slumps into February, then we will start asking more questions,” he said.
In regard to airline seats, a comparison between last year and this which appeared in the July 14, 2018 issue of The Sheet.
Last year, Mammoth had about 32,500 available seats during the winter season, broken down as follows:
San Diego 6,156
This year, the breakdown appears to be as follows.
Orange Cty. 1,740
Total: Approx. 28,300, representing a ~13% decrease.
More actual reporting from Gorman
Mammoth Lakes Tourism met on Thursday to discuss Executive Director John Urdi’s contract and the tax revenue from December.
The board members, most of whom own businesses or work in the lodging and food industry in town, reported their anecdotal evidence for how business was over the holiday season. Michael Ledesma reported that Gomez’s Restaurant and Hugs Ice Cream were up significantly from last year, and he credited the “marketing blitz” that MLT ran from Nov. 22nd to Dec 24th using reserve funds it held jointly with the town.
“What we learned is that we have to compound this messaging because it matters,” Ledesma said.
Sean Turner reported that Mammoth Brewing Company underperformed in the last two weeks of December.
Board Chair Scott Maguire offered this explanation for the difference: “Maybe the dirtbags were out of town [during the blackout], and they like to drink beer, but families were still here to go to Gomez.”
Eric Clark, the MLT representative from Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, said that the first year of the IKON pass has been a great success.
“There were fewer people during the blackout but there was still a lot of spend during that period and great visitation on the sides.”
By “the sides,” Clark means the dates before and after the blackout. It was a goal of the blackout dates to push some visitation to the off-peak dates, and Clark said that this was accomplished. He said the result is that January is already “looking great.”
Board member Paul Rudder asked if there was consideration of having blackout dates on Mammoth but not June next year, and Clark said yes there is consideration but still no decision.
Year to date Transient Occupancy Tax is $1,590,418, 41% ahead of budget, and Tourism Business Improvement District [TBID] tax is at $1,243,405, 2% below budget.
The board also had a lengthy discussion over Executive Director John Urdi’s bonus for Fiscal Year 17-18.
For hitting the metric in his contract for winter employment numbers, Urdi was awarded a bonus of $2,922. John Morris, who headed the committee on Urdi’s review, requested that the board offer another $8,765, or roughly 4% of Urdi’s annual salary, for exemplary performance that was not covered in the bonus metrics set out in his contract.
This bonus was considered because the TBID and TOT tax revenue from 17-18 was nearly as high as it was in the record setting year of 16-17, even though 17-18 was a dry snow year.
The board felt comfortable with this bonus, until Paul Rudder brought up the fact that it might be an illegal gift of public funds since it was outside the explicit bonus metrics of the contract.
Urdi’s contract has a bonus cap of 15% of total salary, and this bonus addition was within that limit. Had MLT been a private entity this discretionary bonus would have been legal, but with public funds there is some confusion.
The Board passed a motion to ask its counsel whether this discretionary bonus is legal or not, and to work to update Urdi’s contract.
Urdi is now six months into the new fiscal year, and his contract has still not been updated. It automatically renewed in June 2018.