THE REAL UNREAL
Mammoth Lakes Tourism (MLT) unveiled its latest ad campaign at the Mammoth Lakes Town Council meeting on Wednesday, part of the organization’s push for a ten-year renewal of the TBID (Tourism Business Improvement District).
As opposed to The RealReal, a NASDAQ-listed company which authenticates and resells luxury goods.
Listed for now anyway. The stock has lost 90% of its value over the past year. Sounds like real pain for investors.
Perhaps a few of The RealReal authenticators should have been on hand Wednesday to check/rein in a few of the more outlandish claims. But that’s what marketers do. You can’t deny a carnivore in its natural habitat.
MLT Director of Communications Lara Kaylor delivered one of the all-timer claims in her presentation. She posted a graphic which suggested MLT had produced/arranged for 320 media placements during 2021-2022 resulting in 22,441,733,417 impressions.
It wasn’t a typo. 22.4 billion. Delivered with a straight face.
The slide said this was 15% more than 2018-2019, when there were a mere 203 placements resulting in 3 billion impressions.
Of course, the math is wrong. 22.4 from 3 – that’s a 747% increase.
And 22.4 billion divided by 320. That’s 70 million impressions per media placement.
Kaylor said this shows “the quality of the publications we’re in.”
Hmm. Did we somehow get a placement in the King James version of the Bible? You know, some little line buried in Leviticus. So every time someone picks up a Bible, we get credit for an impression. Clearly, everyone who picks up a Bible immediately reads Leviticus cover-to-cover. That’s after First Corinthians 13, which you hear quoted at every other wedding.
Leviticus was the cheaper option.
The other rather fantastical claim was that the business community supports a ten-year TBID renewal.
When Councilmember Lynda Salcido asked MLT Executive Director John Urdi if there had been any pushback on a 10-year length of term, Urdi said no, the only pushback had been over a suggested rate increase.
Universal business support of a 10-year term – I’m not sure where that came from, but that was not my recollection from the initial TBID renewal outreach meeting held at the Empeiria High Sierra Hotel (next to Mammoth Chevron) last spring. And not my impression now.
I called three business owners in the aftermath of the meeting to ask them if they were supportive of a 10-year term.
Answer: Well maybe, if the TBID rates were guaranteed to remain constant (1% for lodging and 1.5% for restaurants and retail). But Mr. Urdi has been very up front in telling folks that while these current rates will be maintained, the TBID management plan allows for hiking those rates without further approval from anyone.
Which is why the three business owners I spoke with want a five-year term – a shorter period offers more control and leverage to fight back against any proposed rate increase.
Councilman John Wentworth got into a spirited discussion with Urdi following MLT’s marketing presentation, as Wentworth pushed back against a ten-year renewal.
“The Town does not need to be forced into a corner … I’m not comfortable with ten years,” he said.
While Wentworth did not mention it directly, threat of litigation from the Main Street Taxpayers Assn. (MSTA) would appear to influence his approach.
The MSTA has consistently objected to the idea of taking fees collected in Mammoth and spending them on flights in and out of an airport based in another city in another county. So a nexus has to be established between the money spent and the business ultimately derived. And if you discover 25% of the people using the service are Bishop locals or are otherwise visiting Inyo County versus Mammoth, 25% of the commercial flight subsidy for the United service to SFO and Denver (which exceeds more than $2 million for the four-months from mid-December through early April) should be paid by Bishop/Inyo County.
There is no set agreement in place where Bishop/Inyo County have promised to fund the service for any length of time. To renew a TBID for ten years and contemplate extending commercial air service to new markets without those agreements in place would be irresponsible from Wentworth’s perspective. And Councilman Bill Sauser agreed.
Urdi argued the point bitterly, saying the TBID renewal should not be held hostage while regional partners dicker over airport management.
After this discussion, all parties cooled off by watching a marketing video to promote the new marketing slogan – The Real Unreal. One of the locals cast in the video exclaims, “There’s nothing more important than tourism.”
After it played, MLT Board Chair Jeremy Goico shouted, “Yeah! Love it!”
Whereas I couldn’t help but think to myself, “An organization that puts a self-promotional video like this together is an organization that has too much money.”
The video appeared professionally produced. I’d guess they spent $10,000 on it. It also appeared to be made for an audience of five (Council) as an exclamation point to the 10-year TBID renewal drive.
But the writing is on the wall. Five year renewal and no rate hikes.
But Urdi will be fine. And he pointed out Wednesday, MLT has amassed a $4 million warchest in TBID reserves. This should be enough to risk opening a new air service market in ’23-’24.
In other Council news, Council has agreed to amend its contract with Mammoth Disposal to allow for rate increases starting January, 2023.
The rate increases are meant to offset unanticipated inflationary pressures which have sent costs soaring since the contract was signed in 2020.
The original contract called for 5.6% annual rate increases until 2026. Embedded in those increases was the assumption of 2.5% inflation.
The amendment now grants the 5.6% increase plus a 1-4% bump depending upon CPI (Consumer Price Index).
Based upon current inflation, locals can expect a 5.6 + 4 or 9.6% rate hike from Mammoth Disposal for 2023 and very likely beyond.
Council also voted to spend $25,000 to bail out the Southern Mono Historical Society.
SMHS Board President Robert Joki said the bailout is necessary due to the fallout from hiring a rogue bookkeeper in 2021 to replace the retiring Marianne O’Connor.