On Wednesday, February 19, Mammoth Lakes Town Council met early for a workshop regarding “Scenario Planning and Community/ Destination Strategy Design.”
An abstract name for a workshop attempting to solve problems facing the Town of Mammoth Lakes due to the current tourism/ business imbalance. Things such as housing, employee management, upkeep of natural resources, and tourism carrying capacity.
Carl Ribaudo, president of SMG consulting, gave Town staff a presentation that ended with three solutions: Maintain the status quo, destination management, and destination balance.
Destination management would entail upkeep of our natural resources in a way that better balances the tourists with the local community. For example, Bend, Oregon has a ‘Bend pledge’ that is a list of ten rules visitors should follow. They are directions to preserve the beauty of the area to a sustainable level.
Destination balance is a plan that would raise prices to a point where Mammoth Lakes received the correct amount of visitors at a given point in time. The idea is tourism in any area is driven by supply and demand. If the demand is too high, prices can be raised, until the supply levels out to a point locals are happy with.
Ribaudo said to Council, “You are not unlike other tourist destinations around the globe,” and asked the question, “how do you want visitation to occur?”
During public comment, members of the community got up and questioned the validity of the design workshop. The Managing Director of Sierra Nevada Resort, Brent Truax, started off with, “Do we need a different consultant? We have had plans from SMG for the last 25-30 years… I am not really seeing a plan that gets into the details that we discussed before.” Truax was referring to a meeting that prompted the consultant’s contracting.
John Urdi, the Executive Director of Mammoth Lakes Tourism, told the consultant and staff, “What you have asked for and what you have got is a starting point. There are a whole lot of other steps. I understand this plan isn’t complete but I don’t think it was meant to be complete. This is the bones and we have to put meat on the bones.”
Urdi said that the tourism problem in the town is real, citing TOT revenue in January 2019 being $3 million while July revenue was $1.7 million. Urdi then said he thought more people were in town during July… so something was off.
Finally Tom Cage, owner of Kittredge sports, disagreed with a lot of the presentation claiming, “Business, even though our snow has been very lean, has not been off that much.”
“It is 6% down off of a record year. This is a plan you put together when your MLT has failed you. Your MLT has not failed you,” Cage said, eventually telling Council, “This is a nice clean presentation, this is what consultants do all the time. Other than taking your watch and telling you what time it is.”
Council listened but still felt like a coordinated plan was necessary. Councilmember Cleland Hoff said, “We need to educate the visitors. We haven’t been doing it and it’s getting worse. We have got to let people know how they are going to treat us and what we expect as a community,” before saying, “also, I have never had a business owner tell me ‘gee I have too many employees.’”
Councilmember Lynda Salcido agreed there was a problem, “You are asking the question ‘are we ok with where we are now?’ No, I don’t think we are ok with where we are now. We’ve got housing issues, sustainability issues, Forest Service issues, overcrowding, we have too many people in the Lakes Basin and we can’t keep the bathrooms clean. So to stick to your question, no what we are doing now is not enough.”
Maintaining the status quo was not an option.
Mayor Bill Sauser questioned the transition to high-end clientele as the Town of Mammoth Lakes has built the tourism industry by being a destination to people of all socio-economic backgrounds. Once this market segment is lost it would be hard to get it back.
Towards the end of the workshop Councilmember Kirk Stapp asked Ribaudo, “What is the first step?”
Ribaudo answered, “The first step, if we are centering around option two then, I would come back at another meeting really fleshed out in detail what the next steps are.”
Stapp responded, “Can’t the [Town] Manager do that rather than a consultant?”
Ribaudo immediately responded, “It’s already in the contract. I’ll do it anyways.”
“Alright,” said Stapp.
Eventually Mr. Ribaudo will be back at Town Council displaying the ‘fleshed out details’ of how Mammoth Lakes is going to balance tourism with the residents that live here.