Skiing, snowboarding are flat, other outdoor recreation is exploding

Tourism expert proposes TBID for county, region

Mammoth and Mono County are making a mistake if they assume that the future lies mostly in skiing and snowboarding, according to a recent economic study commissioned by the county.

“Of the $646 billion that is generated in the country from outdoor recreation spending, only $6 billion comes from the ski and snowboard industry,” said Carl Ribaudo, a consultant with Strategic Marketing Group.

The ski and snowboard market has been essentially flat for the past 20 years, generating approximately 50-55 million skier days, he said.

“Thus any growth has to come at the expense of another resort. So it’s important … for the county to begin the process of envisioning a new future and repositioning the area beyond ski and snowboarding.

“There has been a huge increase in outdoor recreation spending, it’s just huge,” Ribaudo said. “So you can see the opportunity you have.

“I was just driving up here, along U.S. 395. Around every corner, it’s something new. It’s stellar.”

The problem is, not enough people know it’s here, he said.

“You have it all, but not enough people know about it,” he said.

Competition for tourism-related dollars is fiercer than it has ever been, he said.

“Everyone now has tourism in their portfolios,” he said. “It wasn’t always this way. But everyone is figuring it out.”

One sure way to increase tourism spending dollars for marketing and promotion in an era of diminished budgets is to take the regional approach, he said, including working with Bishop and Inyo County to promote the area.

“You will have the ability to tap into far more resources and leverage more money than if you do this alone,” he said.

“I think you should be looking at something like a Tourism Improvement Business District (TBID),” he said.

Currently tourism generates approximately $451 million in travel spending throughout the county, he said. Of that it is estimated that 41 percent, or $184 million, is generated in the unincorporated areas of the county.

“Every $95,000 in travel spending creates one job. As such it is imperative to consider how to increase travel spending in the county.

“If travel spending can be increased by 25 percent over the next 10 years, it would add approximately 1,100 jobs.”

This is the first time the TBID concept has been advanced to the county supervisors, according to Supervisor Tim Alpers.

“No, we have not considered it in any formal way,” he said.

“I’ll be interested to see how it works in the town,” he said, if the Mammoth Lakes Town Council passes the proposed TBID. “I’m not opposed to considering anything that will increase tourism, but I realize there is going to have to be a lot of education, a lot of learning where the money would come from, where it would go, and what we could expect for that money.”

“I believe that the county should look into the idea of a county TBID,” said Supervisor Tim Fesko after the meeting.

“Seeing that tourism is our number one industry, we need to find a way to generate more revenue so that we may promote and capture those tourists that are considering other places beside beautiful Mono County.”

The TBID issue has been intensely controversial in the Town of Mammoth Lakes—perhaps a sign of what is to come for the county, should it pursue such an option.

Ribaudo also brought up more familiar “economic development” refrains—tap into Digital 395; create ways to network between businesses, chambers of commerce, etc.; dump the “seasonal mindset;” reassess regulations that lock every community into one-size-fits-all regulations; create an economic development corporation for the county; among many other ideas.

The complexity and scope of what has to change, and under a limited budget, was juxtaposed against some better news, economy-wise.

“We are back on track for pre-recession numbers,” said Alicia Vennos, the county’s economic development manager.

“Shoulder season revenues and other economic indicators show that revenues coming into the county are higher than they have been since 2006, she said.

Another sign of hope is the big increase in social media and web-based marketing, she said.

The Tom Cruise movie “Oblivion” has also spurred a significant increase in movie and commercial permits, she said.