Scott Wedel: City should stop spending money on summer marketing
The local discussion over summer tourism is an important political issue because the city government funds by the amount of $750,000 the Steamboat Springs Chamber and Resort Association’s efforts to promote non-winter tourism.
It is not rude, certainly not “vile,” to our summer tourists to note the collective negative impacts resulting from Steamboat having more tourists than the city’s infrastructure can smoothly handle. Tourists experience the same traffic issues, trash, congestion and so on as local residents.
It was not that long ago that a lack of summer tourism was a problem. There was a lack of summer jobs for local residents wishing to stay here during the summer. It was commonplace for people to leave the area to chase summer jobs in places like Moab. Local summer tourism was sputtering.
We hosted summer auto and motorcycle racing on the streets for a number of years, but then we grew just enough to make it unsafe and that event went away. Back then, it was a reasonable decision by city government to fund the Chamber’s efforts to increase non-winter tourism.
The level of summer tourism has changed so that now summer tourism has reached the point where it no longer needs marketing or subsidies, but local infrastructure to mitigate the impacts. The $750,000 in city funding for the Chamber is an artifact of Steamboat becoming a home rule city, and city sales taxes being collected by the city instead of the state of Colorado.
The state allows for a “vendor service fee,” allowing a vendor to deduct a small amount intended to compensate the vendor for collecting and remitting the sales tax. The city of Steamboat chose not to provide a similar vendor fee but verbally promised to use that amount to promote economic development. For years, that effort has been to give that money to the Chamber.
The issue now is that Steamboat is no longer struggling to attract tourists but is struggling to adequately host tourists. A typical weekend has the parking and congestion issues of what was previously a special event. A special event is now overwhelming.
Non-winter economic development now needs city resources to improve the summer Steamboat experience for tourists and residents. Maybe Steamboat Springs High School should be a slightly remote downtown parking lot serviced with city shuttles. Maybe city bus service needs more frequent service and run some routes later.
Regardless, it is clear that we need to cease spending taxpayer money promoting tourism and use those resources for handling the summer tourism above current city-carrying capacity.
An analogy is that it makes sense to spray starting fluid into an engine’s air intake when trying to start a balky engine or it is sputtering. Now that this engine is redlining then a reasonable person quits with the starter fluid and instead shifts to making sure the radiator has good airflow and generally trying to prevent the stressed engine from blowing up. Meanwhile, a crazy person would be chanting “More, more, more!” and continuing to spray starting fluid into the engine until it finally blows up.
Scott D. Wedel
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