Visitors, and a steady stream of them, are key to a healthy and sustainable resort community. Scott McQuade, CEO of Marketing Telluride, Inc., recognizes that and has plans for making sure Telluride's visitors get all they expect, and more.
McQuade has been on the job at MTI for just over two months now, and in that time he has directed his efforts toward analyzing a number of "key foundation elements" that he said are a "crucial part of our success."
"It's hard to have an analysis of an organization if you don't have the systems in place to measure its performance," he said. "Once the foundation elements are put down we'll get a lot more intelligent about marketing and bringing people here."
One of the organization's main focuses is on rebuilding systems put in place by MTI's predecessor, the Telluride and Mountain Village Convention and Visitors Bureau, in particular, the reporting system, which gathers information about lodging occupancy in the area. McQuade called the current reporting system "cumbersome, difficult to operate and labor intensive.
"It was never trusted as 100 percent reliable," he said of the data gathered, because of variations on who was doing the reporting and what numbers were secured week after week.
"We asked how can we improve that," said McQuade, and the conclusion MTI came to was to secure an outside vendor to control consistency and accuracy. MTI is currently looking at several companies who do similar reports for other resorts in the region and across the state that have the same sort of issues as the Telluride region, "with multiple lodging facilities not owned by the resort," said McQuade. "It's difficult to get information and compile it from so many different companies."
With an experienced outside vendor handling all of that information, "We'll be able to get the general consensus of lodging activity throughout the community," said McQuade, and compare that to other resorts in the area. "It will allow us to look outside the box and compare ourselves to regional competition in the destination market. It's a great indicator of how our marketing plans are going. If we see an increase in certain weeks we're running ads, we'll know the ads are working. We'll become much more intelligent about marketing." MTI plans to name the vendor in the next several weeks and put the plan in action beginning in February.
Research is another area McQuade is turning his attention to with MTI. "It's something that was commenced on occasion by a variety of different vendors and ad agencies," however research on visitor demographics and satisfaction "was never really embraced as a year-round, daily, weekly project.
"We hope to work closely with Telski's program and Mountain Village has expressed interest in joining the project as well," said McQuade. "Our end goal is to gather research on a year-round basis to give us crucial information on the demographics of our visitor base."
Understanding who is coming to Telluride is "crucial to understanding how to market to people and speak to them," said McQuade. Knowing the target audience will help the organization decide where to buy and place advertising.
"Our advertising will be very customer service focused," he said. "We'll get feedback on where the problem areas are."
MTI will use surveys to gather much of this research. "Surveys are a really wonderful way to get a great cross-section of the market," said McQuade, and MTI's survey program will send visitor information specialists out into the community to ask people face-to-face about their experience in Telluride.
"People love to be asked those questions" about their stay, said McQuade. "They feel like they can really make an impact, and that someone cares. It will really nail down how we can improve customer service."
And customer service, McQuade says, is the key to customer retention.
"People are going out of their way to come to a place like Telluride. It takes a lot more effort and resources to get here. We want to make sure they're getting the experience they were promised and expect. That plays deeply into customer retention, which we could improve upon as a whole in this community. Customer service is directly related to customer retention."
MTI plans to launch a customer service training program this summer for area employers and their staff.
"Every person working here on the front line, so to speak, has the opportunity to make a difference to a visitor," he said. "We want to be sure they can take advantage of that and know how to do it." He added that even the simplest things, like a smile and a warm greeting, can make a difference in a visitor's stay.
"Our end goal would be to have a very clear, concise customer service program that works throughout the region and is shared amongst all people trying to make a difference," said McQuade. "We could tie that into rewards for employees going through this program," which also helps with employee retention. "If employees feel they're valued and are an important part of this whole system, they are more apt to say I want to hang on and be a part of this."
The final piece of the puzzle is the actual marketing of the resort. McQuade said it was really too late in the season for MTI to pursue winter media for marketing the Telluride region, but MTI will definitely be in the marketplace come summer.
"We're working on new creative campaigns and improving the various means by which we market," he said. "We're improving our strategy for media buys and really tracking the results of how we're doing. It's not enough to place ads if we don't know what return there is on them"
Knowing exactly how effective specific types of advertising are in driving visitors to Telluride "will be a big improvement," said McQuade. "We'll base buys upon performance."
McQuade said the MTI board and partners are currently discussing where exactly the future of its marketing campaign lies.
"Our goal is to change our course of action from the past," said McQuade, mentioning previous ads featuring a poodle-in-dreadlocks and heavy on white. "I think it's time for a change." He said the new campaign, which has yet to be fleshed out, will strive to do a better job of driving people to the area, something he says the old ads didn't do. "I don't feel those ads really had a call to action," he said. "They were creative, but not what I would call conversion ads they don't inspire someone to pick up the phone and say 'I have to go.'"
In order to compete with major resorts in the industry, a "very concise brand" is needed, he said. "In Telluride we're not there yet. Excitingly, that's what we're working toward. The more people that partner their media dollars and go out into the market with a similar message, the better off the community will be."
McQuade said resorts similar to Telluride that are doing a good job of branding and advertising their community are Steamboat Springs and Crested Butte. Steamboat, he said, does an "exceptional job. They are very brand-centric" and do a good job of pooling their media dollars. "They're always in the market with an offer and invitation," something he would like to see MTI do.
Crested Butted, he predicts, "will be putting out a much more concerted effort in the marketing game. [The owners of the ski resort] infused a great deal of capital into the ski resort and marketing. We'll see them in the future being a greater competitor."
He stressed that MTI's end marketing goal is not to inundate Telluride and Mountain Village with bumper-to-bumper traffic, but to fill out the seasons, particularly the shoulder seasons, by creating a more sustainable economic environment, "But not at the expense of the beautiful natural environment we have here."
So far this winter, McQuade said visitor numbers are "tracking pretty much right in line with last year, give or take a few percent. "The holiday season went really well," he said. In fact, there were a few nights when there wasn't a room to be had in the area and MTI had to send visitors down valley for lodging.
"Right now we're hovering around flat to last year, and last year was a pretty good year with the amount of snowfall we had," he said. One thing helping Telluride's winter economy this year is the flow of southern visitors. "They have no snow to speak of down there," said McQuade. "They're hurting and that's encouraging southern travelers to come up here.
"Snow is the best marketing tool any resort has. We hope that big storm's around the corner."
MTI plans to hold semi-annual public meeting to keep the community apprised of the organization's plans and progress. For more information on MTI, call 728-3401 or visit www.visittelluride.com.