During the Mammoth Lakes Tourism (MLT) Board meeting on Wednesday, Boardmembers discussed how they just didn’t understand why local front line workers were expressing resentment towards the entity’s TBID (Tourism Business Improvement District) and TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) collections.
MLT Director John Urdi revealed that MLT’s TOT collections for June 2022 came in at $1,466,289, which was $677,289 and 86% above budget. This sets TOT collections for the year-to-date at $26,645,190, which is $12,149,190 and 84% above budget.
“Everybody living in this town should feel grateful. Between Covid, wildfires and drought, $26.6 million is unbelievable!” enthused Board Chair Jeremy Goico.
Board member John Morris was quick to give Goico a reality check. “Let’s be honest, if the people who work in the town aren’t seeing the dividends of that as well, then they’re going to start saying, ‘wow, yeah that’s great but my rent has increased and the cost of living is going up and I’m still working my butt off making the same amount’. Front line workers aren’t necessarily reaping any of the benefits and at the same time their cost of living is going up. They feel like they are running in quicksand still. Let’s not be tone deaf to that,” said Morris.
“When I look at this $26.6 million number, and then I look at the end of the year number at Black Tie, what it allows is for me to pay my employees better,” said Goico, co-owner of Black Tie Ski Rentals, as he elaborated upon his comments through an explanation of trickle-down economics. “The money trickles down; Black Tie has gotten four employees into a 401k program in the past year. I have been able to provide employees with healthcare benefits for the first time ever. This is because of the extra money in TOT. And if that’s not happening at your job, and you’re feeling like you’re not being taken care of, then we can’t do anything about that [as an organization] MLT. But maybe reach out to the Chamber and they can provide you with some resources. I hope that this is happening to other businesses in town when I see this TOT money. That’s what I was trying to get at there,” explained Goico.
Black Tie employees may be faring better, but for many locals in Mammoth, the math is still daunting.
An internet search showed the average rent in Mammoth Lakes, right now is $1,316 per room.
To honor the “30% rule” of having one’s rent be 30% of one’s total take-home pay, paying $1,316 a month would require a minimum wage worker to work over 73 hours every week. And in order to work up to higher-paying positions in the service or retail industry (which are the primary industries that fund Mammoth’s local economy), minimum wage is often where people must start.
It took one local who spoke with The Sheet about four years until they only had to work one job in order to afford to live in Mammoth.
“It takes years to establish making consistent, good money here. I worked three jobs when I first got here because my rent was so high,” she said. “And even back then, my rent was $2,400 for a 3 bedroom, 2 bath split with two other people. Now, you’re lucky to find a 2 bedroom for that much. Plus, as a service worker, this is a seasonal economy so you make great money for part of the year but not all of it, yet have to pay consistently high rent every month, making some months really hard even now,” she explained. “It makes sense paying $1,300 for a place in San Diego. There’s a ton of different shops, markets, Trader Joes, you name it. Here, we just have Grocery Outlet and, like, the second most expensive Vons in California,” she added.
Another local working in the service industry said to The Sheet, “I can’t even find a normal, new pair of sneakers here in town. To buy a pair of sneakers means finding some pair of Adidas that they slapped climbing rubber to and then sell for $200. If you can’t find affordable clothes or affordable shoes for sale here, then I think it’s indicative that Mammoth isn’t a functional economy, but a tourist trap.”
During Department updates at the MLT meeting, Marketing Director Brian Wright passed out vacation planners that advertised Mammoth as an international destination.
He then proceeded to boast about how a well-known social media influencer from Spain was “blown away by her experiences” when visiting Mammoth, and that Mammoth has recently gotten media coverage from social media ambassadors from Germany, Australia, India, and New Zealand.
Wright proudly pointed out how the Mammoth vacation planner features pictures of real locals, to which everyone at the MLT table had a bubbly reaction.
With current technology, Wright has been able to monitor social media ads on a biweekly basis to assess the effectiveness of advertisements and tweak it accordingly; apparently a photo of a family did very well recently, so now they are pushing more “family-oriented” content through MLT’s social media presence.
Wright explained that he can now track exactly which individuals look at an online ad, keep scrolling, and then later that night go home and look up the content that the ad featured. Then, he says, he can purposely blast them with the same ad again. “In fact, since we have a partnership with the L.A. Kings, I am able to know who was sitting in the Kings stadium, saw the MLT Ad, and then later came up to visit us … This method of tracking ad effectiveness is incredibly, incredibly effective,” he brags. “And it’s also all legal!”
In other news, Bluesapalooza is currently still not booked out. This is a “shocker” to Board member Darlene Magner, who anticipated that the event would be completely sold out by now.
Goico chimed in to reassure Magner that Mammoth has seen much more last minute bookings recently.
Urdi then reminded everyone that during the Fourth of July, Mammoth saw occupancy go up at the very last minute (in some places, from 50% to 100%).
“We’re definitely seeing last minute inquiries,” agreed Magner regarding Bluesapalooza. She expects that, by the weekend, Bluesapalooza will be at or close to full occupancy.
Alterra Resorts reps will soon be traveling to Brazil to attend a leadership convention, and then, later the same month, will be going on a “sales mission” to Europe to promote themselves for the upcoming year and winter. The topic of the sales mission will be the Ikon pass and “international skiing”.
“We have to continue to market our destination and we have to do it feverishly. We can’t rest on these numbers; if we want to continue to sustain and stay at a high level, we can’t let up,” said Morris.
During MLT and Town Council’s joint meeting that followed, Mayor Lynda Salcido recommended that the MLT board go to the Parcel construction site and actually see the “tangible effect” of their money instead of just “presenting a nice presentation with great numbers.”
“But I am thoroughly impressed,” added Salcido. “I cannot think of another resort-driven economy that has allocated as big of a percentage of their money to housing.”