Steamboat chamber CEO Kern focuses on marketing efforts |

Steamboat chamber CEO Kern focuses on marketing efforts

Tom Kern, the new CEO of Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, began work Sept. 6. One of his top priorities is to develop a sustainable funding source for summer marketing in Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell

— Tom Kern said he understands the importance of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association’s summer marketing program, having been a visitor here since 1973 when there wasn’t much going on during the months between the end of one ski season and the start of the next.

But the new chamber CEO also said with less revenue from city sales taxes, which fund summer tourism marketing, the program needs a more sustainable funding source.

“I’m optimistic that we can come up with a summer marketing financial plan that will be acceptable to all the parties concerned,” Kern said last week. “What that looks like, I don’t really know yet. But I believe that everybody in this community benefits from the marketing of Steamboat in the summertime and that everyone appears, at this point in time, to be open and willing to have that conversation.”

The summer marketing program was a hot topic during a joint meeting of the Chamber board of directors and Steamboat Springs City Council on Sept. 6, which happened to be Kern’s first day on the job. He replaces Sandy Evans Hall, who left in March after 25 years with the chamber to lead the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association in California.

Kern said summer marketing is one of several big issues facing Steamboat. He said a task force of yet-to-be determined elected or appointed officials, business owners, lodging operators and personnel from Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. could start meeting by the end of the year to begin discussing a sustainable funding source for summer marketing.

Then and now

Historically, the city has funded summer marketing with a

3.3 percent allocation of sales tax revenues, an amount identical to the old vendor’s fee. The city did away with the fee, which was a rebate from the state for processing its sales taxes, in 1984. Previously, Steamboat’s merchants donated those revenues to the city to fund summer marketing efforts.

The city agreed to continue providing 3.3 percent of sales tax revenues for summer marketing, and even provided additional general fund support in some years. The city in recent years also has provided special event funding, some of which is dedicated to marketing Steamboat’s summer attractions and events. City Council member Jon Quinn said while it’s important to determine a sustainable funding source for summer marketing, the city’s support of those efforts make sense.

“When we look at the core functions of government, I bel­­­ieve for a city like Steamboat, you could easily say marketing is and should be a core function of our government, but I know not everybody feels that way,” he said. “There are certainly folks in the community that feel that marketing should be left to the business community, that it’s not appropriate for government to fundraise financing in that way.”

But Quinn acknowledged the city’s support of the chamber’s summer marketing efforts — $525,000 this year — may take a back seat to providing government services, such as making sure roads are drivable.

Quinn added that, as a community, Steamboat spends less than other mountain communities on summer marketing.

According to an informal survey conducted by the Chamber, similar mountain communities spent considerably more on summer marketing each year, including Aspen ($950,000), Breckenridge ($1.8 million), Crested Butte/Gunnison ($1.08 million) and Vail ($1.18 million). And they use lodging taxes to either entirely fund or to supplement support of summer marketing.

Steamboat has a 2 percent lodging tax that supports the winter air service program.

Chamber board President Jeff Steinke said the city should not be solely responsible for funding the summer marketing program. But he said the city should play a role in the effort that could include the Chamber, local businesses and maybe even Routt County.

Next steps

Steinke said the Chamber board would help Kern work with members of the community to develop a sustainable funding source for summer marketing.

“One of the big attractions that we had was his ability to build alliances with city, county and state government as well as other businesses within the community,” Steinke said about Kern. “He’s been successful doing that in the past, and we felt certain that would be one of the characteristics that would benefit everyone instead of everyone trying to push their own agendas. If we work together, we’ll get more accomplished.”

Kern said developing partnerships would be key to the Chamber’s other marketing efforts, such as creating new events during shoulder seasons.

But just as important would be defining how the Steamboat community measures success, he said.

“And that’s not just the City Council,” he said. “It’s citizens groups. It’s downtown merchants. It’s the ski corporation. It’s the hotel operators. It’s the restaurants. What does success look like? Because if we can’t articulate that and define that, clearly it’s very difficult to know what strategic marketing plan to put together to try to meet those objectives.”

Kern said it’s important that any possible funding source for summer marketing be amendable to the whole community, not just the City Council.

Kern said he hopes the task force would identify some possibilities by spring. If a sustainable funding source is identified during that time period, the earliest it could be implemented and begin supporting summer marketing efforts would be 2013.

The Chamber will request $600,000 from the city in summer marketing funding in the 2012 budget year, and another $100,000 for summer event funding.

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