lodging tax funds: winners and losers

Aaron Pruzan carves a fresh turn Tuesday, when the morning snow glittered like diamonds. Pruzan has done yeoman's work on the Travel and Tourism Board, but often is outvoted by those who favor conventional marketing.

The Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board has decided which community groups will receive lodging tax funds for promoting their events this year. The distribution is somewhat puzzling.

The chamber of commerce — well represented on the board — is the biggest recipient, netting $46,500 for Old West Days, Jackson Hole Marathon, Destination Wellness and WinterFest, the News&Guide reported.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort will receive the maximum $20,000 for its Mountain Fest, the centerpiece of which is a free concert March 31. The resort has not yet booked a band, but the additional funding gives promoters a stronger hand, said Andy Calder, who produces the event for the resort with Dom Gagliardi of Poppa Presents.

“Let’s shoot for the stars* here,” Calder said.

The Stage Stop sled dog race, which starts Friday on the Town Square, will receive $10,000, as will the Jackson Hole Figure Skating Invitational and Vista 360 Fire Festival. Despite being one of the biggest draws of the winter, the World Championship Snowmobile Hill Climb also will get $10,000.

It’s disappointing the Jackson Hole Ski Club receives only $5,000 each for Town Downhill and Pole Pedal Paddle. The ski club brings hundreds of athletes and their families to town each winter and has been putting on these sporting events for more than 30 years — on a shoestring budget, with parents and volunteers staffing races for a free lift ticket.

The club sought $20,000 for each event, pitching a plan for Town Downhill with lucrative prize money, a JumboTron screen for spectators to watch the race, and a band performing afterward at the base. For PPP, the funding would go toward more prize money, lower entry fees, regional advertising and possibly bus service from the finish back to Teton Village, where the award ceremony and Mountain Fest concert await.

Here’s the funding breakdown, via the News&Guide:

Click to enlarge.

Tax board members and a citizens’ subcommittee, which recommended funding amounts, apparently concluded the Town Downhill and PPP do not bring enough visitors to town, or attract athletes likely to stay with friends, etc.

History shows otherwise. The all-time winningest competitors in the Pole Pedal Paddle are Mike Freeburn and his wife, Jana — of Durango, Colo. — who combined for a total of 16 titles. The idea to hold the race here was conceived in 1975 by Harry Baxter, then the marketing director at the Jackson Hole Ski Area.

Nothing against these events, but how does the tax board give twice as much money ($10,000) to a marathon started only last year and four times as much ($20,000) to WinterFest, an umbrella created last year to group traditions like the Cutter Races with Dodgeball on Ice?

Ski racing is part of Jackson Hole’s heritage, dating to the 1930s and ’40s with Betty Woolsey and mates, World Cups at Teton Village in the 1970s, Tommy Moe‘s 1998 Olympic gold and Stiegler family exploits that continue today. Why not promote that heritage and bring in some of the fastest racers with cash prizes and a festive atmosphere?

Town Downhill and Pole Pedal Paddle are the best events of their kind in the West. They are organic, and anyone who has participated or has a whit of marketing imagination knows they have potential to be even better, for visitors and residents. Look at the attention Bend, Ore., receives for its PPP.

This community, vis a vis the lodging tax board, shouldn’t back itself into a corner in terms of the tourists it seeks. Those who come and stay with friends or in budget accommodations spend money at restaurants and bars, get their skis tuned, ride lifts. Last year the lodging deals were good enough for PPP/Mountain Fest weekend that even locals were booking rooms. We need not always be chasing wealthy gapers who buy airline tickets and suites at Four Seasons.

What’s wrong with appealing to tourists who look a lot like ourselves?

*Music promoter Calder cautioned that aiming high doesn’t mean landing the splashiest name, necessarily. Rather, he seeks the right fit, given artists’ schedules and budget constraints.

“There’s more to this than just taste,” he said.

Putting on an outdoor concert in winter is not cheap; stage and production costs run $30,000, before the band gets paid.

Calder emphasized that feedback from music fans is critical. Some ideas he has to dismiss outright, not because he doesn’t dig the bands but because they are in Europe or the recording studio. “Without people bouncing ideas off me and Dom, we are nowhere,” he said.

(Photo by Jonathan Selkowitz)

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Posted under County Government, Economy, Entertainment, Music, Politics, Sports, Town Government

20 Comments so far

  1. the hatchet January 26, 2012 4:09 pm

    Thanks for the read Jim. Two things that immediately hit me:

    1) Are we reaching out to our homegrown athletes (ie – Travis Rice) to have them help promote and even put on events here? Travis is putting on a first-of-its-kind snowboarding event in Canada. Why not here, in Jackson Hole? Please tell me someone has at least pitched him on that idea.

    2) The Hill Climb – whether you like the noise, pollution, tobacco spit, or not – is an event that is well-established, attracts a large crowd, and raises a ton of money, which the Snow Devils then give back to our community. I’m glad they got money.

  2. David Stubbs January 26, 2012 6:04 pm

    The Hill Climb is one of the most obnoxious, annoying, polluting, embarrassing four days of life in this town. How about a local Mardi Gras instead. We’ll all drink the bars dry, buy lots of food, dance in the streets and keep the cops busy . . . Fun for all sans the senseless burning of fuel, the neverending noise and the neon invasion. Sure the snow devils bring us lots of cash, but imagine the possibilities of shiny bead necklaces. Heck we could do it on St. Patty’s as well (and make it a four day weekend to boot.).

  3. Ripple January 26, 2012 7:58 pm

    Good thoughts, Stubbs.

    One thing you may have forgotten, though, is that if something brings in money then it must be a good idea. With that in mind, why not keep the Hill Climb in Jackson and hold Patchouli Fest in Alpine?

  4. Pete Hardman January 26, 2012 8:03 pm

    the hatchet:

    Unlike David, I think the Hill Climb is just fine even though David hits some truisms. And it’s an economic engine late in the season that’s more likely to bring in folks who don’t normally visit but live nearby. Attracting a different crowd is good for economic diversity.

    There’s no reason we can’t include David’s ideas, too

    Winterfest? Every resort is trying to do the same stuff. I doubt anyone will come to Jackson just because we have an umbrella event called ‘Winterfest’.

    People come for skiing, so have a free-ski day like the free day in the National Parks & throw in Stubbs’ party.

    One side note to js: Thanks for posting on Greg Collins.

  5. Danno January 27, 2012 5:18 am

    Is everyone who buys a plane ticket a ‘wealthy gaper’?

  6. js January 27, 2012 7:20 am

    No, you’re right. I probably got carried away. But for so long we’ve been courting Baby Boomers to play golf and buy real estate. I think the market research done by the Denver firm, Cactus, hired by the lodging tax board will show our target demographic is much younger.
    Keep in mind this funding for events is less than 10 percent of the tax board’s budget for the year. We’re already spending $1.2 million on a campaign to lure “destination” visitors.
    I think the PPP should be on ESPN.

  7. hoogeloper January 27, 2012 7:55 am

    Interesting that no new events have been created in response to new funding opportunities.

    Did we just vote for a tax and recycle the $ back to the valley? How do these events add to the numbers of new visitors and, more effectively, how do they attract visitors during shoulder months?

  8. D January 27, 2012 9:36 am

    Ahh. Mr. Stubbs just because you hate the Hill Climbs, and people who are a little different from you we should get rid of them. Right? I would venture to guess they think your Enviro (Save The King) agenda and Mardi Gras idea is just as dumb, and should canceled before it begins. Due to the fact the Hill Climbs have been going on for nearly forty years, I would say maybe you should find a different town to live in. Why live in a town with an event that is so well established that you hate so much. Not to mention this one event brings in more people and money then all the other events you mention. I don’t see black out dates on my JH ski and snowboard club membership for any of the other events mentioned here. I have an idea. As soon as you get this canceled move to New Orleans and cancel Mardi Gras, so everyone will come to your Mardi Gras here. If you are going to cancel something that is original and so well established at least come up with an idea that is unique and special.

    More importantly I am not sure the people of Jackson like yourself, could get through the year with out a solid four days of looking down your nose at people who enjoy themselves differently then you. I mean you have to feel so great about yourself by the time Sunday comes knowing you’re so hip, so green, and just all around more worldly.

    How about a little tolerance and appreciation that this event allows people from a different walk of life to visit and spend money in a town you call home. Just because they get their trill from motor’s and big trucks, they have every right to enjoy that as you do to enjoy your idea of fun.

  9. Mark January 27, 2012 12:34 pm

    Great article. Couldn’t agree more with the potential PPP has to be a big regional event. Curious way to divide the pie.

  10. Boat 1 Retired January 27, 2012 2:32 pm

    First let me state that I did campaign for, vote for and apply for a seat on the lodging tax board but I would not support the tax if we were to vote again – at this time. Nothing to do with sour grapes, I am just not fond of the way the tax monies are being spent – for many reasons.
    Now onto the list of “winners”. Funny how all the events tied to a lodging tax board member were awarded monies. Does anyone else find this troubling? Does the fire festival bring in any out of town tourists? does it even bring locals to the town square? Every year there seems to be less and less people attending. And they get $10K? Oh yea, the organizer is on the tax board.
    One submission that I think should have been supported but was not is the Wyoming Council of International Visitors. Now, I know that this is more of a program than an event – but because I work with the WCIV I know that they actually bring people to town. The folks WCIV bring in are decision makers back in their home countries – these are visitors who can return and speak directly to their populations about what Jackson Hole offers to visitors. How come WCIV was not supported?
    I support the ski club and their events – have participated in both the downhill and PPP – it will be interesting to see if the money they receive will help increase the number of out of town visitors and thus increase retail, dining and hotel room sales – more than likely the category winners will just get more money in their pockets.
    As stated earlier, I would not support the tax if we were to vote right now – but I am open minded enough to give it time and see if the board can win me over by the time we do vote on it again in 2015.

  11. js January 27, 2012 3:47 pm

    Glad the $10,000 for the Fire Festival is raising a few eyebrows.
    Hoogeloper, this round of funding was open only to existing events. I don’t think the board wanted to open the floodgates to every idea just yet, although that’s more or less what happened anyway. There is money set aside in the budget for a possible fall event (some sort of conservation theme?) that has yet to take shape.
    D, David was being facetious about Mardi Gras. Although we have poked fun at it here before, I can live with the Hill Climb. (In fact, I have lived with it buzzing above my neighborhood for seven years.) We burn gas when we drive to the pass to go skiing.
    I’d have given the Snow Devils more money for promotion/TV coverage and tried to work with organizers on reducing pollution (no idling on the big rigs near the base of the King) and other associated problems.
    Everyone who receives funding has to track the number of out-of-town participants so the board can gauge the effectiveness. Hopefully the ski club can lower PPP entry fees a bit. Aaron and other supporters of the club have reacted positively, saying let’s get our friends up here and show that participation jumped x percent with $5,000, and hopefully make bigger strides next year with more funding.

  12. Garry S. January 27, 2012 5:25 pm

    A few comments to throw in to the mix as a former Jackson resident and now resident of central Oregon.

    1) The Hill Climb is a great event that should be promoted more and I agree the organizers should push for more tv coverage. I am not a sled head but I patrolled at the King and it is a great event for the ski area and for town. Yes, it brings in a different recreation population to Jackson but Jackson needs that in many ways.

    2)As a recent transplant to the Bend area I can say that the Bend PPP puts Jackson to shame. The event is marketed so much better, bringing in literally hundreds of participants from Portland and Seattle (and no, it hasn’t lost a fun local vibe or somehow become commercialized). That doesn’t include their support people, friends, and family. My wife and I participated the past two years and the difference is amazing. If Jackson could get to something on the Bend level it would bring participants from IF, Bozeman, Salt Lake, and Denver. Moreover, the people at the Bend PPP are not skids staying on couches — most are young professionals or middle aged and spending lots of money on hotels and restaurants at a time when most other tourists are not. That is also something for the Jackson PPP to think about — could they convince the Mountain to open up one lift later in spring say in early May for the PPP (Bend PPP is in May)? Could it be feasible? Yes, I know some years there wouldn’t be enough snow. But, if the weather were just a touch better and you could get the Mountain and Town on board for a weekend dedicated to the PPP it might be worth it. A long shot definitely, but worth discussing. Right now, the PPP falls sometimes on the closing weekend of the mountain which I think can sometimes detract from the PPP event.

    3)I think in general the local Jackson tourism industry (Travel and Tourism Board, Chamber, etc.) should look to Bend for ideas for events to hold in the off season that focus on recreation and attract people from outside of the area. I can’t say I am interested in all of the events that occur in Bend, but they have done an amazing job of marketing outdoor recreation year round. The fall has essentially turned into one long season of bike races and events that attract people from all over. Yes, in Jackson that would be harder to do with the onset of winter, but how about a September bike weekend with mountain and road races? Maybe something a little less intense than LOTOJA that occurs the weekend after? Again, not easy to pull off but something worth discussing. Maybe an October trail run weekend? Nordic races in the winter? There really are a plethora of options for recreation based events that could highlight Jackson while at the same time promoting tourism. And they might bring people to the area that don’t just want to look at moose and play golf.

    That’s my rant…something to consider.

  13. David Stubbs January 27, 2012 9:13 pm

    Good article Jim! Interesting ideas about trying to pump up ski racing. With the population boom in the Rockies over the past twenty years, its odd that ski racing doesn’t pick up a larger mainstream audience with such great action and festive tradition. Has anyone ever explored the idea of a ski jump on the King? Nothing like flying people in funny suits to draw a big crowd. The Euro ski jump circuit draws 60,000 to 100,000 in attendance per event . . .

    D- Sarcasm and humor didn’t quite get through I guess. No hate on anybody, just annoyed by loud, smelly sledding in town. (like many residents)

    To be clear, I am not actually advocating for a Mardi Gras event in the streets (that’s original), but alluding to the general economy and work of the police it requires.

    Please refrain from baseless personal insults, especially without the sand to sign your name to it.

  14. Chad January 27, 2012 10:25 pm

    I love the idea of a televised PPP. To that end, perhaps we should have put more money to fewer events. At the current distribution rate, I fear LTB funds will only curtail each event’s fundraising by a week, and not actually improve its impact. Imagine 40k to ppp instead of 5. Now we’re talking chopper cam dollars!

  15. Trixie January 28, 2012 10:14 am

    No LOTOJA?

    LOTOJA is bringing in revenue & I support these types of micro activities. They cater to the Jackson lifestyle. They promote Jackson in the best way, at the best time, with their own money, & through a large fan base much like TGR does with its films.

    I’d rather be tarred and feathered than attend Old West Days but engines of economic growth don’t always have to be as exciting as the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank’s annual symposium.

    If you’re bored out of your mind while skiing at the JHMR, the Fire Festival is there to grab your attention. Micro events are good filler material but they aren’t real food like a ski resort or National Park or a strong 2nd-home market. They are advertising.

    Who says, ‘let’s spend the weekend in Jackson to see the dog-sled races’? Nobody says that. The people visiting for these events are the people directly involved in these events.

    Attracting the Star Wars Fan Club or the International Pedigree Stage Stop Sled Dog Race seems like a desperate attempt for revenue much like violin playing in a subway tunnel but in this Internet age, a resort community needs every gram of attention to refocus the viewers eyes.

    Events like the JHMR’s Mountain Fest aren’t the deciding factor in one’s decision to visit the Hole for 5 days because every resort is chasing the same ideas. The JHMR has a Mountain Fest because they’re afraid not to.

    If you are going to promote the JHMR, don’t you want a picture of young people partying at the base? Do you want other resorts looking more fun, grabbing more attention? While it could grab viral attention like a big avalanche, it’s really just an attempt to keep up with the Jones’.

    Right now MAMMOTH is offering FREE flights.

    As for the off-season!…

    With kids in school, the National Parks closing services, and the weather getting funky, I really don’t think many people want to visit Jackson during the off season. What’s the appeal? The mud? The Teton Raptor Center? It does make sense to promote the off season to a degree but let’s not get carried away. The focus should be on Winter visitors. It almost qualifies as the off-season when you compare it to summer.

    If you’re going to travel during the shoulder season, doesn’t Southern Utah sound nicer? And let’s be honest, part of the attraction of visiting Jackson during the off-season is the lack of people. So, personally, I hope that doesn’t change.

  16. D January 30, 2012 9:11 am

    @DS
    I realize you where being sarcastic, as was I. There was some truth to each of the comments in my opinion.

    One thing I don’t understand is why they schedule Hill Climbs, Mountain Fest, and PPP all on the same weekend? I enjoy them all, but there are never enough rooms and the town is overloaded. How do they measure who came for what when many people come for one, but enjoy them all? The Hill Climbs could easily stand alone, with the other two the week after or before?

    Sincerely,
    D

  17. Rick Hunt January 30, 2012 2:00 pm

    Thanks Garry S for your great ideas. I especially like the idea of holding the ppp later in the season after spring break and after the ski area is closed and the wheather is hopefully nice. I’ll run it by the board.

    Boat 1 retired – FYI, I’m on the Ski club board and I’m the primary sponsor of the TDH. When we upped the cash prize six years ago for first place in Pro to $1000 we saw an increase in racers and spectators because it upped the level of competition. We drew in out of towners and in fact the first big payout went to Travis Svendrud from Bozeman and his girlfriend who both cleaned house. It was hard to see the money go out to an out of town racer, but it did the trick and reinvigorated the TDH.
    My goal and our idea is to dangle a carrot (cash prizes) out in front of these racers again and hopefully entice them to come and compete. I will be very anxious when race day comes and we get to look at the entry’s and see what kind of response we get from the advertising and invites. If in fact we don’t see any results other then more money for the same competitors (your worry)then we obviusly won’t get any more money from TTB. I will be trying very hard to get more people from out of town to come and compete, our future TTB funding relies on it.

    We’re considering changing the name from “The Jackson Hole Town Down Hill” to “The Mini Hahnenkamm” so it doesn’t sound so local.

    It is my want to turn both the PPP and the TDH into reginal events with TV coverage, however we must take it one step at time and the five grand we got for each will help us with that next step but will not complete it.
    With that said help spread the word about these two great events that support the oldest non-profit in the valley which gets our kids out in the hills skiing.

  18. Boat 1 Retired January 30, 2012 3:11 pm

    Jim – thanks so much for an outlet that sparks discussion about community affairs.

    Trixie – LOTOJA was not eligible for LTB funding due to it falling on the second weekend of September. I believe the cut-off date for funding of these events was September 21, 2012. I agree that a bike event (Fondo Jackson Hole?) could draw visitors here – I and friends have started something we call the “South Park Century” with the intent of growing the event into a Fondo – but trying to find a weekend when the weather would be bike friendly and other events wouldn’t conflict is the hard part. I would like to see the Fondo held on the last weekend of August but if held then – it wouldn’t qualify for LTB funds – even though that weekend is a historically slow time for lodging occupancies. Slower even than mid-June when events were eligible for funding.

    Rick – a big thank you to you for sponsoring and supporting the town downhill. I hope that the monies you received will help draw a more regional crowd – always a blast to race and/or watch this event. Let’s hope that whomever ends up running Snow King in the future will allow it to continue to be run. Let’s also hope that anyone who participates on Jim’s blog here will help get the word out about both the TDH and the PPP. Between all the folks that read and participate here, there could be tens of thousands of facebook friends who could hear about two great events. Maybe we could even get Cactus to replace the general ads for JH that they have on trucks on the I-70 corridor with advertisements for the TDH – there has to be some need for speed skiers on the front range. Pair that with another $299RT flight deal from Denver plus hotel room specials and we could possibly fill this town.
    I’d love to see the ski club and JHMR bid on the US Ski Team Nationals again – when it was here a few years back there seemed to a bump in visitors to the area.

  19. GCA February 1, 2012 10:53 am

    I read the article and was MYSTIFIED (a gentle word selection) that any of the lodging tax monies are going to support well (enough) established events in town. Were any of these events in jeopardy of not taking place again without an infusion of some additional funds? I thought the tax was supposed to help ROUND out our economy, specifically in the shoulder seasons. I am nearly certain that EACH of those events would move forward without the piddly grant money awarded by the lodging board AND they just managed to blow through $150,000 (?) that could have been used to do something really extraordinary. Seems our community will have no net value in exchange for a substantial amount of money. Why am i not surprised?

  20. Think BIG February 4, 2012 9:42 pm

    GCA is right. I’d rather bring the X-Games to the Hole. TV, Print, and Internet coverage up the Wazoo. Perhaps Jackson needs some serious Mountain Bike racing in the Off Season with a serious cash prize like $35,000 for the top Male & Female Riders, $30,000 split for other categories. The other $50,000 can go towards marketing & staging. That’s $150,000.

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