At Tuesday’s Mono County Tourism and Film Commission meeting, Carl Ribaudo of Strategic Marketing Group presented the County Economic Development Strategic Plan and Marketing Plan Element for the Corridor Management Plan. While the name of the presentation was a mouthful, the concept was simple: identify a comprehensive, practical plan to expand the County’s tourism and marketing efforts.
“Tourism funding is limited even though it [tourism] is responsible for the largest percentage of jobs,” Ribaudo explained. According to his report, 40 percent of jobs in the County are tied to tourism.
“You need to strengthen your core sector, which is tourism,” he said.
Currently, “the Town of Mammoth Lakes, at 77 percent, is the largest contributor to the gross regional product,” Ribaudo added. Bridgeport was second while Lee Vining and June Lake followed, respectively.
Some opportunities that Ribaudo identified were going after a National Scenic Byway Designation, — “40 percent of travelers claim they would take a scenic byway over other routes,” Ribaudo said — taking advantage of the increased outdoor recreation trend, and using last year’s closure of June Mountain Ski Area to June Lake’s advantage rather than moping about it.
“June Mountain’s closure [last year] provides an opportunity to reinvent June Lake,” Ribaudo said. “The ski industry is flat, it’s not growing, so June Lake should make the ski area part of a larger picture. You need to strategically rethink June Lake.”
Ribaudo also identified two components that would have to be addressed in order for any expansion or strengthening of tourism.
“You’re going to have to bring in a new source of revenue [to fund the marketing efforts],” he said. “It’s not going to be coming through the General Fund.”
His suggestion was the formation of a TBID … a County Tourism Business Improvement District similar in theory to the current TBID under discussion in the Town of Mammoth Lakes, but with its own rules and regulations to be discussed and determined.
Mono County CAO Jim Leddy asked if Ribaudo recommended the County partner with the Town of Mammoth on its TBID or if it should strike out and create one on its own.
While Ribaudo said he had seen it done both ways, he did not have a recommendation for the County.
“I’m just trying to show you the power of the dollars you are going to need to expand tourism,” he said. “You have to careful not to have too many [TBIDs] because then you get mixed messages, but two should be OK.”
Commission Chair Jimmy Little explained that originally the County had discussed a combination TBID with the Town. “But it added too much complexity so the partnership was left on the shelf,” Little said.
And with the Mammoth TBID set to go to a vote next week (July 3), time may be running out to partner up. However, judging by some of the reactions to the Mammoth TBID, would County businesses be interested in the process?
“The private sector has to come to grips with this [TBIDs],” Ribaudo said. “It needs to be something the private sector grabs hold of. Getting it [marketing dollars] out of government gives you a broader ability.”
Ribaudo added that the rules of individual TBIDs are determined and discussed at the time the TBID is set up. Economic Development Assistant Jeff Simpson suggested that Mono County reach out to the unincorporated areas of Inyo County for a potential TBID partnership.
“That’s a novel idea,” Ribaudo said. “You need to set yourself up for these novel discussions.”
Which led to Ribaudo’s second component of developing stronger tourism: developing strong partnerships with other agencies, such as the Forest Service, that impact the recreation Mono County is trying to sell.
“How do we balance this [tourism] with the need to close these recreation activities,” Little asked.
“You must have your needs spelled out and be proactive,” Ribaudo said. “You need a specific long-term strategy that you can sit down and talk about. These agencies control your world so you have to make your needs clear so that they come to you before doing things that may affect you.”
Bottom line, according to Ribaudo, “Strengthening tourism is the key to economic development within Mono County.”