The Visitor Guide Quandry, Part Two
Bill Hudson | 8/10/10
Read Part One

The Town Tourism Committee — an 11-member volunteer board charged with expending about $350,000 a year in Lodgers Tax revenues collected by downtown hotels and inns — has focused much of its energy, over the past couple of years, on developing effective marketing tools such as Internet links and magazine advertising.  Generally speaking (from what I can tell as a casual observer) these advertising efforts seem to be aimed at enticing new, first-time visitors to Pagosa Springs — which makes sense, given the TTC’s legally-stated mission: to increase the number of tourists coming into Pagosa Springs.

About two years ago, a TTC subcommittee began negotiations with Pagosa Springs SUN Publishing over a proposal to expand the SUN’s existing “Pagosa Country” visitor guides and to use the new, expanded, collaborative publication as a mailed promotional piece for marketing to new, potential visitors.  The TTC already had access to a steady flow of phone requests coming into the Chamber of Commerce-operated Bob Hand Visitors Center; they just needed someone to create a glossy magazine with the requisite maps, charts, photos and other seductive information.

The SUN agreed to produce the requested guides — one for “summer visitors” and one for “winter visitors” — for the first two years of the project, supplying the TTC with a certain number of glossy magazines for mailing and also distributing the attractive, glossy guides locally through area businesses. The SUN sold all the advertising in the guide, did the production, and kept the profits.  The SUN also made a PDF version of the guide available on a website called

But the cost to the TTC of subsidizing the glossy guides seemed to be climbing with each passing season.

This past spring, the TTC changed direction and solicited proposals for its 2011 guides — and on the related website that would form part of the marketing package.  Rather than “buying” a certain number of magazines produced by an independent publisher — the arrangement they’d had for two years — the new glossy 2011 guide and related website would be owned by the TTC, not by the publisher. 

And the publication would be used exclusively as a mailed-out piece — it would no longer be distributed locally.

The SUN bid on the 2011 project, but lost out to another local marketing company, the Cassio Group.  Graphic designers and web developers Mel and Darlene Cassio proposed to produce one single, annual publication for 2011 instead of the separate “Summer” and “Winter” guides proposed by the SUN.

The Cassio Group also proposed to increase the cost of the TTC Guide display ads — which would supposedly decrease the need for TTC subsidies, and might also cost local advertisers less as well, since they would be paying for only one year-round magazine instead of two seasonal guides.  Plus businesses might benefit from an expanded website presence.

But would the new plan really save local businesses any money?

Advertising is a curious game.  I know a little bit about it, since I’ve made most of my income over the past five years doing web advertising for local Pagosa businesses.  And now, with the arrival of the printed monthly Pagosa Post magazine, I am out on the streets selling print advertising as well.

I occasionally run into Mel and Darlene Cassio also out selling to the same business owners.  Mel and Darlene recently finished selling ads for Jim Smith Realty’s Pagosa Magazine and Real Estate Guide — formerly a quarterly magazine, as I recall, but now a once-a-year effort. 

I also run into Jacque Aragon now and then, out selling the Pagosa Springs Dining Guide.

I don’t often see the SUN’s sales team out and about, selling the local weekly paper; I assume they do much of their selling by phone?  I do know they are right now making a big push to sell ads for the Winter 2010/2011 “Official Visitor Guide.”

I just this morning received an email from the Chamber of Commerce, asking me to sign up as a sponsor for Colorfest.  Another opportunity to advertise.

Thinking about this curious hodge podge of advertising opportunities — and considering the difficult times many businesses are having lately, just paying their employees — I began to wonder how local business owners were thinking about the 2011 Visitor Guides.  Are these publications effective, as marketing tools?

And if the TTC is putting out one guide aimed at and mailed out only to new tourist prospects, while the SUN will be printing its own “Official Visitor Guide” for local distribution.... where would a local business owner sink his or her (limited) advertising dollars?

The Pagosa Post, and Jim Smith’s Pagosa Magazine, and Jacque Aragon’s Dining Guide, and Heather Leavitt’s Arts Perspective Magazine, and a dozen more regional magazines and guides are distributed locally as free publications — and as such, they are picked up here in Pagosa by both locals and visitors.

And we must remember that Wyndham Resort — possibly the largest tourism organization in Pagosa — also sells ads in its own resort-owned magazine.

Does any of this display advertising really make sense, financially?  Do business owners sense a “return on investment” from their ad expenses?

As I mentioned in Part One, most Pagosa businesses depend upon a mix of tourism dollars and local dollars.  Thus, many Pagosa business owners — if they advertise at all — are now faced with a perplexing choice for their 2011 ad budgets: do I advertise in the new TTC Guide and website (aimed only at people who might visit Pagosa someday)?  Do I focus on the local guides and magazines — the SUN’s “official guide”, the Dining Guide, Jim Smith’s Pagosa Magazine, the Pagosa Post?

Do I try to afford all of them?  Or do I throw up my hands and forget the whole thing?

Read Part Three...

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