Chamber request would allow for a new stewardship campaign, more data on tourism and a renewed effort market Steamboat Springs as a destination.
The Steamboat Springs Chamber is requesting a 50% increase in funding from the city for its destination stewardship efforts, an ask that may be difficult to meet as city council contemplates cutting as much as $4 million from the overall budget.
The budget increase would allow the Chamber to replace its “Kindness Floats the Boat” campaign with a fresher message, put more money behind getting that new message out, increase the amount of data tools available to study tourism trends and invest in longer-term destination stewardship strategies.
“It’s not a drastic increase,” said Laura Soard, senior director of destination development and communications at the Chamber. “What we learned this year is that $500,000 was not enough to really execute a complete destination program that really sets our community up for success.”
The plan would also include an effort to “renew brand awareness,” which Soard said would be marketing of Steamboat Springs to ensure that it remains in the conversation as a destination beyond during the ski season.
“All the other towns that can be considered our competitors are doing some of these efforts,” Soard said. “We want to make sure that we’re not left behind.”
City Council did not make any decision on the Chamber’s request on Tuesday, though some members said they were not thrilled with the increase, especially as the city is contemplating how to reduce the overall general fund budget as sales tax revenues are starting to see declines over the previous year for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re going to cut $4 million from the budget and for any organization to come and ask for 50% more than they were given last year, I will seriously look at that,” Council President Robin Crossan said. “You’ve thought it out, but I do believe a lot of this reads marketing and not stewardship.”
The Chamber saw a steep reduction in funding for destination stewardship efforts last year, when council allocated $500,000 to be used only for destination stewardship, but no marketing of Steamboat as a place to visit. That was down from $715,000 in 2021 and $874,000 in 2020 — both years that included funding for destination marketing.
(Note: The Chamber does a lot more than just destination stewardship and marketing and has sustainable funding for its business development efforts through its membership. The funding from council is for the destination stewardship program alone.)
Council member Joella West said she felt council needed to have a larger conversation about what they want to get out of the Chamber’s efforts, similar to last year when they decided they did not want any marketing of Steamboat as a destination.
“Do we not want to attract any additional visitors?” West asked.
The turn away from marketing came as Steamboat saw more people coming to town during the pandemic. This had locals asking to turn off the tourism tap, and council obliged. A recent resident sentiment survey conducted by the Chamber shows most residents still feel the winter and summer seasons have too many visitors, with the spring and fall having just about the right amount.
Responses differ when asking the business community though, which feels the number of visitors in the winter and summer is about the right number, with the spring and fall months having too few visitors.
“We’re in 2023 and we’re seeing (the numbers of 2021 and 2022) was definitely an anomaly,” said Council member Michael Buccino. “We are a sales tax based with locals that pay about 60% of the tax, but we need that tourism because that has paid for a lot of what this town is. I would implore us to continue looking at that.”
Council will consider the Chamber’s request when it starts to craft the city’s final 2024 budget next month.