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Tourism committees evaluate contract with Chamber of Commerce

In a discussion last Friday at the Pagosa Springs Town Hall regarding a pending contract with the Chamber of Commerce (CoC) for the Visitors Center, the board of the Town Tourism Committee (TTC) revealed plans for how it intends to revise its relationship with the CoC and the Visitors Center.

Furthermore, members of the TTC board hinted that a merger with the Archuleta County Tourism Committee (CTC) could be in the works during the next few months.

Early last month, members of the TTC, CoC and a CTC representative, County Commissioner Bob Moomaw, the CTC not having selected a board at that point, met to discuss the TTC’s and CTC’s involvement in the Visitor Center as well as renewal of the contracts for that facility.

That meeting, held at The Springs Resort, got off to a rough start as members of the Chamber board bristled at some of the statements made in the TTC’s opening presentation.

At issue was the management contract the TTC has with the Chamber over the operations of the Pagosa Springs Visitor’s Center. In its 2010 budget, the TTC has funded operations and maintenance of the Visitor’s Center to the tune of $88,000. The CTC has also allocated $66,000 to the Visitor’s Center in its 2010 budget.

“We do have some concern with the TTC primarily supporting the Visitor’s Center without oversight,” said TTC President Bob Hart at the March 1 meeting.

Those concerns were magnified at last Friday’s meeting but the discussion included several possible solutions to the TTC’s concerns.

Currently, the TTC funds the CoC (in the Visitors Center agreement) to the tune of $88,000; postage on visitor guide fulfillments, however, push that amount just over $100,000. Last year, the TTC funded the CoC $80,000, with more funding allocated to postage on visitor guide fulfillment.

According to TTC Coordinator Jennie Green, 25-30 percent of the TTC’s budget is allocated to CoC contributions.

Starting the discussion Friday, Hart reflected on how the TTC had previously renegotiated demands with its Visitors Center contract. “The issue then, if a visitor came into the Visitors Center, ambassadors would only make recommendations to a business that was a Chamber member.”

Hart gave the example of a visitor asking for a recommendation for a Chinese restaurant. If there were two Chinese restaurants in town, but only one was a Chamber member, ambassadors would only recommend the restaurant that was a Chamber member.

“We finally got that out of the contract last year,” he said.

Looking at the pending contract, members of the TTC agreed that the current iteration was insufficient. “If we sign this contract, we lose complete oversight of our money,” said TTC Board Member Keely Whittington.

Whittington suggested that the contract the TTC formulates should look like “a pure management contract. Everything I know as a business person,” she continued, “says not to sign a contract like this without oversight.”

Indeed, the TTC board expressed what a “pure management contract” might look like.

“We need to delineate fulfillment costs out of our Chamber contributions,” said board member Jim Smith. “We also need to delineate what is being spent by the facilities subcommittee.”

Smith was referring to a proposed joint subcommittee (composed of CoC, CTC and TTC board members) that would oversee technology, maintenance and other aspects of the Visitors Center.

In leveraging it’s contribution to the CoC, the TTC suggested putting $17,000 for postage on fulfillments (mailing out visitor guides) and $30,000 to hire an assistant for Green — someone to handle fulfillments (versus Visitor Center staff) as well as updating social network presence and the visitpagosa website. Money would also be spent, it was suggested, to provide Green with office space for her and her assistant — outside of the Visitors Center.

With rent on office space, hiring additional staff and postage costs, the CoC contribution from the TTC would be whittled down to just under $40,000.

“What are we getting for that $40,000?” Smith asked.

The board agreed that a facilities subcommittee could provide oversight for CoC contributions not allocated to TTC staffing needs and fulfillments.

With the board unanimous that the CoC contract required revision such that financial oversight would be built into it, a joint meeting was planned to discuss the contract with the CoC and the CTC.

“I think this is the most critical decision facing us right now. We owe it to our community to make the best decision for everybody,” said board member John Johnson.

It was at that point when Hart and Smith briefly discussed a proposed merger of the CTC and TTC. With the TTC much larger and better organized than the CTC (the CTC having just formed a board in early March) and with the TTC providing the lion’s share of promoting tourism for the town and the county (vis-a-vis the visitor’s guide), the question has been raised why two committees are necessary to perform, essentially, the same function.

However, more meetings between the CTC and TTC would be required before a merger could be facilitated, a fact reflected by Green when speaking, at the close of the meeting, to the CoC contract and a possible tourism committee merger.

“I’m anxious to see it resolved, Green said. “I’d also like to see a merger of the CTC and TTC.”