At Mammoth Lakes Tourism’s (MLT) monthly board meeting on Wednesday, June 5, the board discussed increasing the number of holidays in MLT employee contracts, selected a new member to represent the retail industry of Mammoth Lakes, approved its budget for next fiscal year and ended the meeting with a fiery semantic argument over the difference between a goal and a strategy.
MLT Executive Director John Urdi asked whether his staff at MLT could have all 12 federal holidays included in their contracts.
Currently, the MLT staff receive 5 holidays and 15 days of paid vacation, totaling 20 days off. This change would raise employee vacation time to 27 days a year, and would make them slightly more in line with the rest of the town’s employees.
Sean Turner asked how much paid time off the town employees get. Urdi said that managers at the town get 47 days off, which received a collective gasp from the board.
Mayor Cleland Hoff, who sits on the MLT board, said that she did not support the change. She said that the town receives the most tourists during holidays, and it would be appropriate to have the town’s tourism staff in the office and in the field on those days.
Urdi said that Memorial day and Labor day are always sleepy ones at the MLT office. Few people come by and the phones don’t often ring. He said in his 9 years at MLT, 12 tourists have come to the office on a holiday.
Hoff said, “Well maybe that’s just a you thing. Maybe you’re not in your office.”
Board Chair Scott McGuire directed Urdi to come back to the board with time off benchmarks from similar tourism organizations and recommendations stemming from those benchmarks.
Sean Turner is vacating his retail board seat at the end of this month. His replacement must possess a retail business license in Mammoth Lakes, and three candidates applied for the seat. Patricia Andrews of Red Lily and Matt Hammer of Shelter Distilling and Black Velvet Coffee were the two candidates seriously considered.
The third, Anita Westfall of Outdoor 365, was not able to schedule an interview before the deadline.
Matt Hammer was eventually recommended by the nominating committee and voted into the seat by the board. John Morris, a member of the nominating committee, said that there was only a subtle difference between the two candidates.
“What connected best was Matt’s vision of the future of the town,” Morris said. “His vision will help push this board in the right direction.”
Board member Michael Ledesma was concerned that for both of these candidates, retail only makes up a small proportion of their businesses. Red Lily makes most of its revenue from providing floral arrangements for events, and Hammer said that retail makes up about 20% of Shelter and Black Velvet’s combined business.
Board Chair Scott McGuire attempted to alleviate Ledesma’s concern by saying that Sean Turner’s business, Mammoth Brewing Company, similarly makes a minority of its revenue from retail, and so his replacement will not deviate much from the status quo.
The fiscal year 2019-2020 budget was approved by the board with one controversy. McGuire gave a speech calling for the board to buckle down on creating a vision for the future.
“I don’t think we’ve delivered a strategic plan to the board. I don’t think we’ve delivered a true strategic vision to the community, and I think approving a budget of several million dollars in absence of that is a dereliction of our duty as a board,” McGuire said.
“I do not want to sit here next year and have a budget where we have a marketing plan, not a strategic plan, presented to us by the consultants that buy advertising on our behalf.”
Mammoth Mountain’s representative on the MLT board, Eric Clark, disagreed with McGuire’s point that MLT lacked a strategic vision.
“Are you changing the strategy of $20 million in (Transient Occupancy Tax) revenue that we’ve all agreed to?” Clark asked.
“That’s not a strategy, that’s a goal,” McGuire said.
“That is a strategy,” Clark argued.
Urdi hopped on this argument to say that MLT has strategies like marketing the fall season more to create more fall visitation.
McGuire said that marketing fall is a strategy, but it is not a strategic vision.
“I think we’ve looked at a lot of marketing plans,” McGuire said. “When I read our bylaws, we should be more than just a marketing organization for the town … I don’t think I’ve heard a very clear, ‘this is the vision for the organization for the next five years holistically.’”
“I think we’ve been drilling into the how without actually saying why.”
The board decided that it would not agree on the issue of strategic vision during the course of this meeting, and approved the budget.
*On a tourism related note, May enplanement numbers for commercial air service were released this week.
Enplanements for 2019 (through May) are 10,408, down 31% from the same time period last year.
Approximately two-thirds of Mammoth Yosemite’s annual enplanements occur in the first five months of the year.
Mammoth is on track for its worst year, in terms of enplanements, since air service was reinstated back in 2009.
However, on a positive note, The County of Inyo and Town of Mammoth Lakes were recognized this week with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Herman C. Bliss Airports Partnership Award.
The Herman C. Bliss Airports Partnership Award, created in 2005 to recognize the service of long-time FAA Western Region Airport Division Manager Mr. Herman C. Bliss, is awarded to an airport, a consultant, a state or local government employee, or organization that has provided unparalleled leadership.
Inyo County and Mammoth Lakes received the award “in recognition of the important partnership developed between these organizations to cooperatively develop their respective airports and to develop a regional solution to the aviation needs of California’s Eastern Sierra Region.”