The Aspen Chamber Resort Association has set its marketing budget for 2014, with revenues generated by a lodging tax projected to be roughly the same as this year.
Chamber and city officials expect that the 1.5 percent lodging tax dedicated to tourism promotion will bring in $1.9 million, and will be used to market the resort mostly for the spring, summer and fall. The budget was approved by the ACRA board last week and will go in front of Aspen City Council on Tuesday for final approval.
As part of the contract the chamber has with the city, council has oversight over its marketing budget, said Julia Theisen, ACRA’s vice president of sales and marketing. The organization’s marketing budget is separate from its general operating budget, which is fueled by membership dues, sponsorships, sales from events and other revenue sources.
Theisen outlined next year’s budget to the ACRA board last week and highlighted the successes of the sales and marketing efforts this year. She noted that visits to the aspenchamber.org website increased 39 percent from January to September over that same time period last year. August had a record high of over 75,000 visits to the site.
This year, ACRA spent $350,000 on advertising, 70 percent of which was online and the remaining in mountain, lifestyle and travel print publications.
The online advertising resulted in 17.3 million impressions, Theisen said, meaning that many “eyeballs” saw the ads in various places. An estimated 6.6 million eyeballs were exposed to the print ads.
The chamber spent $210,000 this year, and will again next year, on public relations efforts. ACRA contracts with Promo Communications to pitch journalists on stories about Aspen, either by hosting them here or going to countries where specific demographics have been identified as potential visitors. Theisen noted that the chamber also has agencies in various countries that pitch on ACRA’s behalf.
ACRA hosted more than 20 members of media over the summer and fall, highlighting different aspects of Aspen. Ten journalists were hosted during the winter season in partnership with the Aspen Skiing Co. and others to cross promote the summer season. International members of the media also came here from France, Japan, Singapore and the United Kingdom, according to Theisen’s presentation.
PR representatives went to New York City throughout the year to meet with 25 editors and other journalists to pitch “targeted story angles”; for example, meetings were held with bridal publications for group-specific stories. Also, the chamber and Promo brought 15 members of the Colorado media to Aspen to be pitched on angles to promote summer with local nonprofits.
She told the board that the return on investment for PR efforts this year was $4.4 million for articles or mentions of Aspen online or in print.
That figure is calculated by a standard formula the industry uses where articles and TV segments are considered advertisements, and whatever the cost of that ad would be given its placement is multiplied by three, Theisen explained.
“Typically we look at how many stories we are getting and what types. ... Are they targeted to families?” she said. “We look for a broad exposure of Aspen.”
She highlighted some sample coverage this year to the board, which included The Today Show for “best fall getaways for empty nesters” and usatoday.com, which featured Aspen in “best dog-friendly hotels.”
Theisen also said all of the articles about Aspen that appeared in national print and online outlets had a total of 1.6 billion people looking at them.
“It is a lot,” she said.
And while those efforts were characterized as a success, the resort’s occupancy was slightly down this summer — 3.2 percent — over last year. June saw rooms in Aspen 55 percent filled; July, 76 percent; and August, 70 percent.
But the sliver lining, Theisen said, is that the average daily room rate is higher than it has been in seven years, so hoteliers have been able to make up for the loss in occupancy. Aspen’s average daily room rate in June, July, August and September ranged in price from $218 to $347, and was higher than any year since 2007 in each of those months.
“We had a very strong summer,” Theisen said at the ACRA board meeting.