At its regular meeting Wednesday, the Mammoth Lakes Tourism Board formally approved its plan to petition to extend the TBID (Tourism Business Improvement District) for a ten-year term beginning next year.
What’s notable is that MLT completely dropped its bid to raise the TBID rates – this largely due to input from local businesses said Executive Director John Urdi.
During the meeting, Board member Bill Sauser’s voice was the most memorable. While the board went through the motions of presenting numbers, staff reports, and patting itself on the back for various achievements, it was only Sauser who mixed up the rhythm of the meeting by offering small, but notable, tidbits of dissent.
The meeting kicked off with Mr. Urdi presenting data on the commercial air service into Bishop Airport for the 2021-2022 winter season.
Out of a sample size of 537 visitors (273 first-time visitors, 264 repeat visitors), the majority of people surveyed flew in from these three locations: San Francisco (27.4%), Denver (20.3%), and Los Angeles (9.3%).
Out of the winter air visitors, 35.8% were Californians, 16.2% were from Colorado, 5.4% were from New York, 3.7% were from Texas, and 3% were from North Carolina.
According to MLT, many private jets specifically flew in from Colorado.
The main demographic of visitors was wealthy millennials (born between 1977-1995) with household incomes that averaged approx. $160,000. This exceeds Mammoth’s average household income of about $116,000.
“These people are well-to-do. When they visit, they probably aren’t going to Vons to buy pasta to cook. Instead, they’re going out to eat at our restaurants every night, spending money on our services,” boasted Urdi.
Downhill skiing was the top reason for all (first-time and repeat) visitors who traveled by air. These visitors averaged 3-4 nights per stay, with most arriving on Thursday and leaving either Sunday or Monday.
The Board then discussed tourist occupancy. Though total average occupancy for Mammoth’s Fourth of July celebration this past weekend was considerably low (49%), according to MLT, this doesn’t necessarily mean that total revenue was down.
“The numbers are still coming in on that,” said MLT Office Manager Emily Bryant during her Marketing and Communication staff report. “But just to remind everyone, the occupancy report also doesn’t include second-home owners or renters who rent through unofficial rental properties. And, the occupancy has never exceeded 80% for a Fourth of July that lands on a Monday,” she said.
*Editor’s note: Since the Fourth of July would land on a Monday once every seven years and MLT was founded ~2010 (if memory serves), Bryant’s statement might apply to one previous occasion.
In the coming weeks, occupancy is expected to remain lower than usual, projected to hover around 50% for this coming weekend, followed by an expected increase to about 75% occupancy for the following weekend of July 16.
“Because of TBID [Tourism Business Improvement District] and other things, low occupancy doesn’t necessarily mean low revenue,” reminded Bryant yet again.
*Editor’s note: Huh? I don’t follow.
Expanding on the topic of TBID, the MLT Board proceeded to vote to approve the TBID Ad Hoc Steering Committee’s Revised Recommendation to renewTBID for the next 10 years, starting July 1, 2023 and ending on June 30, 2033.
TBID rates will remain largely constant: 1% for lodging, 1.5% for restaurants, 1.5% for retail businesses, but 2.5% for the ski area (this was presented as a voluntary increase, up from 2%).
This is the first time that the Board has truly had the ability to increase rates by their own volition and approval, said Urdi.
Board member Bill Sauser pointed out that the people of Mammoth Lakes have to agree to this, and the Town Council must vote to approve it as well, otherwise it cannot happen, even if all Mammoth businesses are on board.
“The feedback I’ve gotten in the past couple weeks is that there is no need for any increase, even voluntary ones, and that MLT has too much money already. I hear complaints all the time,” explained Sauser.
For this reason, Sauser was the only Board member to not vote in favor of the TBID renewal, stating that he was uncomfortable with the 10-year commitment. Urdi was quick to remind him that the TBID can be rescinded in any year if 51% of businesses want to do so, but Sauser still didn’t budge. John Morris motioned to approve the increase, and all Board members voted in favor except for Sauser.
The Board then delivered its financial report. This included mulling over the TOT collections from May 2022, which came in at $804,086, which was $273,086 and 51% above budget. TOT collections year-to-date are now currently $25,140,380 on a budget of $13,711,000, landing MLT $11,429,380 and 83% above budget.
During Dakota Snider’s Marketing and Events Staff report, he shared that searches for events in Mammoth have eclipsed lodging searches. Interestingly, India was two times higher than any other location in the world for internet searches of Mammoth Events.
*Editor’s intrusion: Pass the Naan!
The third most common internet search related to Mammoth has been “where to find public showers in Mammoth Lakes,” with over 1,500 searches to date.
“We all are seeing the thru-hikers in town,” said Snider, implying that this population accounted for the increase in searches, neglecting to mention that at least a quarter of Mammoth’s workforce currently live out of their cars.
The Community Recreation Center (CRC) is supposedly back under construction yet again, with beams going back up. “There’s some fabric there already. It’s been tough getting to this point, but it’s finally going on,” said Sauser.
Sauser also pointed out a problem that has been created by changing all campground reservations from first come, first serve to reservation-only following Covid. “I’m seeing campgrounds sitting at half capacity because spaces are all reserved and then the people don’t show up. The way that these sites are being doled out, the Forest Service is taking money at a rate of 100% capacity, holding onto the reservations, and not necessarily giving them out to anybody else when nobody shows up. That’s frustrating to see,” said Sauser.
Sauser, who first moved to Mammoth when there were only 300 residents, continued: “When I moved here, there were more beds renting in Long Valley and Crowley Lake than there were Mammoth. The difference was not just Dave McCoy, it was that the people who moved here wanted it to grow and wanted it to grow responsibly. And those people are no longer here. So there’s an education that has to happen …The importance of events aren’t just to draw people to Mammoth, but to do what we’ve talked about, to push people to other places, to disperse them, so that the locals can be happy as well as the visitors. Don’t lose sight of how important that is, so that it’s not just all visitor-driven.”
The Mammoth Lakes Tourism Board meets again on August 3 at 1 p.m. in Suite Z above Vons Pharmacy in Mammoth.