DMO may start behind
When applied to visitation trendlines, the “red ink” on the new MTrip reports now used by the Town to track bookings is a good thing. You want it to be higher than blue. Red represents the current year, whereas blue is last year. If it’s higher, that’s good. If, however, you’re looking at the budget to be used for the forthcoming Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), that “red” may end up translating to how much money it won’t have on July 1, its first day of operation.
During their regular monthly “Tourism-related issues“ meeting earlier this month and a subsequent special workshop with Town Council, Mammoth Lakes Tourism and Recreation Commissioners and DMO Board members reviewed the recently released platform for “Mammoth Lakes Tourism,” as the DMO is to be known.
Attendees were briefed on the strategic marketing plan for the new organization, essentially an elongated mission statement. Suffice to say, however, the stated objective is “get more visitors to come here.” The planks of the platform are deliberately being left general in order to allow the DMO’s to-be-named-later Executive Director opportunity to refine them to his/her own liking.
Time was also spent in both meetings discussing not only its function, but perhaps more importantly its funding. The DMO will ultimately run on a mix of dues, sponsorships, co-op revenue and perhaps even some Utility User Tax dollars, but a large chunk is expected to come from Measure A, originally designed to fund tourism-related opportunities from its inception.
T&R Commissioner Teri Stehlik, who also sits on the DMO Board, said members are working feverishly trying to ferret out “what’s staying with the Town and what’s going over to the new DMO.” Both the Board and T&R Commission have called for all Measure A dollars — roughly $1.8 to $1.9 million annually — to go to the DMO. That does, however, leave the Town in the position of having to fund its remaining Parks & Recreation department out of General Fund dollars.
What may end up going to the DMO could be less than expected, based on the result of what Tourism & Recreation Director Danna Stroud said would be a “reckoning” of Measure A dollars. “It comes down to what does the Town need to retain versus what the DMO requires,” she said.
Some commissioners voiced concerns about the possibilty of a potential tug-of-war, should the Town decide to keep a sizable portion of Measure A dollars. Such a move, they indicated, could be construed as a “preemptive attempt to retain as much bureaucracy as possible.”
Funds allocated or spent in the current T&R budget aside, the Board’s main focus is the Town’s position on big ticket line items, such as Air Service “guarantees” (or “subsidies”), which could pull up to $425,000 from the DMO’s budget right off the bat.
Raising the questions “Should those funds be siphoned off from the Measure A dollars?” and “How would that much diminished revenue affect DMO staffing or other needs?” Hard to say, since the estimated $2.2 million dollars of the DMO’s budget will be allocated in terms of staff/operation versus actual marketing is as yet undetermined.
Part of that operation could include the California Welcome Center (as it’s now being called) and Special Events, both of which, opined T&R Commission Chair Bill Sauser, “should be under the DMO from the outset,” as is the case with most DMOs. Stroud said DMO staff will “inherit” at least a near-term Special Events schedule more or less already in progress, though they will have some time to ramp up and modify future events and programs with a shoulder season buffer to fall back on.
Commissioner Shields Richardson said he thinks it’s important that in any event the budget is at least accurate when the new Executive Director is brought on board. “I would think they’d want to know exactly how much they have to work with before getting started,” he stated.
Meanwhile, resumés for the Executive Director position are being compiled and the Board plans to have a panel assembled for interviews by mid-April. Council member Wendy Sugimura said her only worry was setting too ambitious or artificial a timeline for hiring and bringing an Executive Director up to speed.
Commissioners and DMO Board members assured her that the process is on track. “The ED search is going slower than we’d like it,” DMO Board Member Howard Pickett told workshop attendees. “But the headhunting agency is at work and we’re still on track for hiring someone by mid-May.”
“I’ve hired similar staff in less than 2 months,” observed Commissioner Knud Svendsen, adding that perhaps lining up applicants for core staff now could save time in the interim.
Pickett said initial searches for someone with “extensive marketing, sales and DMO experience” didn’t produce the caliber/type of applicants the Board wanted. MMSA has offered to match Town dollars to pay for the ED’s first year salary and cover headhunter costs, he added.
Richardson, while not meaning to sound pessimistic, still had his reservations about the uphill climbs still ahead for the fledgling DMO. “It seems as though we’re going to have them mining for gold with tissue paper and a pocket knife,” he opined.
Stehlik took his point, but was even more pointed when it came to the Town’s future. “Parks and Recreation should start looking for a P&R expert now to head it, and not someone such as [Stroud] who’s had to wear 2 hats,” she said.
On Tuesday, Stroud advised the Commission that during reconciliation (especially as concerns Measure A dollars) not everyone will like or agree with everything that will be said. “We’ve done things status quo for a while now, but that status quo shell will be broken,” Stroud said.