Friday, March 9, 2007

Ketchum shouldn?t cut back marketing

Before deciding to hire hotel consultants and new city employees to man a nebulous economic development program, Ketchum City Hall needs to produce more convincing evidence than its claims that unidentified, phantom hotel operators are interested in locating in the city.

Who, pray tell, are these entrepreneurs with millions of dollars to spend who speak only to members of the Ketchum City Council on the Q.T., who, in turn, are unwilling to share the information with the public?

The American public is far less trusting of grandiose assurance from government since President Bush couldn't produce weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Yet, with an aloof "trust us" air, the City Council is discussing lopping off local-option tax funds regularly earmarked for the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau tourism marketing program, which work year-round, and diverting them to City Hall.

If the city wants to launch some unspecified economic development campaign, it should do so without harming the marketing that regularly puts money in the city's pocket—and the pockets of local businesses.

It would be utterly foolish to reduce already scarce marketing funds in the faint hope that City Hall will come up with something better than tourism. It would be like killing the town in order to save it.

The council does need to find out what other resorts are doing with hotels financed by the sale of condos also used as hotel rooms. It could get that information by picking up the phone.

Twice now, the City Council has offered two different hotel developers impossible hurdles to jump, and the projects died on the vine. The council desperately seems to want to justify micro-managing hotel projects.

Instead, it should turn over a new leaf and accept the time-tested theory that a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.

Instead of nibbling hotel developments to death or applying a "City Father/Mother Knows Best" attitude to private hotel financial strategies, the city should simplify. It should make sure hotels meet zoning and design requirements—and get out of the way.

It's up to hotel developers and operators—not the city—to analyze market risk and make hotels succeed. There is no one- size-fits-all way to do it—even though the city would like it so.

It is up to the city, however, to devote funds to keeping the area's name in front of the vacationing public. It can do that by preserving its marketing contract with the Chamber & Visitors Bureau.

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