Steamboat Chamber asks City Council for $750K with most of it going to destination management

Steamboat Springs Chamber and visitor center. l Steamboat Chamber/courtesy photo
Steamboat Chamber/courtesy photo

In advance of the Steamboat Springs City Council’s adoption of the city’s 2022 budget, the Steamboat Springs Chamber made an official request for $750,000 in funding at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Council did not vote on the request but agreed to discuss the issue at its Oct. 5 budget retreat.

Chamber CEO Kara Stoller told council members the Chamber would like 75% of the funds to go toward destination management and 25% to go to marketing and promotion, with a greater emphasis on destination management now and marketing as more of a long-term goal.

Stoller said the overarching idea behind destination management is to mitigate negative impacts from growth and tourism, as well as providing visitor education.

“We have worked hard to balance economic impacts with community and environmental impacts,” Stoller said, adding that she hopes to implement a long-term destination management plan within the next year.

More specifically, Stoller suggested a “Visit Responsibly” campaign aimed at educating visitors on safety while recreating, giving wildlife space, cleaning up trash, being kind to local employees and being aware of wildfire restrictions.

“Based on the community survey, we know that the majority of locals understand the value of tourism,” said Laura Soard, Steamboat Chamber marketing director. “This is management that really focuses on sustainable tourism, protecting our cultural heritage and our community values as well as how do we encourage visitors to be sustainable while they’re here in our community.”

Soard and Stoller said specific campaigns are still in discussion, but they hope to partner with Steamboat Resort, Main Street Steamboat Springs and other businesses and groups that interact with visitors.

“Sometimes, word of mouth is the best and the only way to get a message across,” said council member Robin Crossan, who works at Steamboat Resort. “Last year, on the mountain, we had people every day having to remind people to put their masks on.”

Crossan also said she would like to help service workers be better educated on what the community rules are, so they can better inform they tourists they serve.

“That, to me, is 50% of the messaging campaign,” Crossan said.

Council member Michael Buccino said he agrees with the 75/25 numbers and encouraged other council members to remember that Steamboat relies heavily on tourism and marketing should still be a priority to bring visitors to town, especially during the fall and spring seasons, which traditionally see lower visitor numbers.

“If there is any local that wants to close those doors to anybody coming to visit, then maybe they should leave town because that’s what this town is,” Buccino said. “It is very short-sighted for anyone to think that this is not a tourist economy that brings people here.”

While council members were on board with the Chamber’s idea and agreed to discuss funding the organization, Buccino and council member Kathi Meyer expressed concern that the Chamber continues to ask the city for money each year and has not yet found fiscal independence.

“I specifically feel that it is time for the Chamber to go to the lodging community and say, ‘We want to control our own destiny; we want to quit going to City Council every year, begging for money and not knowing what the plan is,'” Meyer said. “I will be hard pressed to give the fiscal support that you’re asking for until there really is a recognition that you have a plan.”

Buccino called Meyer’s idea of asking the lodging community for more money through an accommodations tax a “no-brainer.”

In June, Stoller asked the council to consider reallocating the 1% accommodations tax with a majority of the revenue earmarked for destination marketing and management.

The tax, which the lodging industry pays, was originally passed in 1986 to fund “development of improvements and amenities in Steamboat Springs, which will promote tourism and enhance the vitality of Steamboat Springs as a premiere destination resort.” And then in 2013, voters approved a 10-year reallocation of the funds to build trails around town and help finance improvements along Yampa Street.

While council members explored the idea of reallocating the funds during several meetings, they ultimately voted against moving forward.

Council member Heather Sloop said she believes the Chamber had to make several sacrifices during COVID-19, and the conversation around fiscal independence could come at a later date.

“You guys have been kicked and beat and just crushed with trying to figure this out,” Sloop said. “I think you just needed to breathe, and I appreciate your breath.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.