CITY OF OURAY: OCRA uses last year's challenges to refocus next year's goals

By Sheridan Block

Last year proved to be a satisfying one for the economic wellbeing of the City of Ouray. Tourists explored Main Street shops and stayed in local hotels, leading to a healthy growth of sales tax revenue and lodging and occupancy tax funding. Behind the scenes, however, the Ouray Chamber Resort Association, the organization responsible for marketing and attracting visitors to the city, found 2013 to be one of the group's more difficult years.

"Last year was a challenging year for OCRA," said board president Tamara Gulde.
Executive Director Kat Papenbrock explained that 2013 was an especially trying year financially for the chamber, which in turn affected other areas of the group's mission.
According to the 2013 Annual Report, OCRA's financial status revealed an overall net loss for the year and a significant net loss in marketing line items over the last 15 years. Last year, the chamber's budget reached the $500,000 mark, a "milestone" that tested the organization's capacity, the report stated.
As a result, the group was prompted to refocus its missions and goals as well as organize a strategic financial plan for the upcoming year. Factors that drove some key changes for the 2014 budget included marketing spending, events and economic development programs. This year's budget was focused to achieve maximum return on investment.
"We cannot continue to spend too far beyond the scope of our LOT (lodging and occupancy tax) funding for the marketing budget," the report read. "… That's not to say spending was not appropriate — every dollar spent on building the Ouray brand is important — but it sets up a fiscal situation that the organization needed to address in 2014."
OCRA's involvement and investment in several large-scale community events, although successful, "put a hit" on the chamber's capacity in the office and on efficacy in overall marketing, said Papenbrock. The report explained that the largest and newest events took place during the "lowest available cash flow months" of the year and as the events attracted more individuals, staff, not volunteer committees, were expected to coordinate events.
"While we experienced great outward successes by continuing these large scale programs, we realized at the end of the year that it's not really a role the chamber can carry," said Papenbrock.
The solution to this problem, which would also help rebalance the chamber's budget over the next two years, was to hand off these events to individual committees. For example, the Mountain Air Music Series will be coordinated and carried out by the MAMS board, which will become its own nonprofit entity next year. MAMS will also take the reins and organize the Fourth of July concert in the park. The chamber hopes to hand off other big name events, such as Mud Fest and Oktoberfest, to independent groups.
By taking some of the event coordination pressure off, OCRA can return its attention to marketing strategies and attracting tourism to Ouray.
Papenbrock noted that the tourism aspect of the chamber's duties did "really well" in 2013.
"We learned not only how strong our brand is, but how strong our engagement is with the people who interact with us," she said. "While we may be small in size and budget, the people we do reach are incredibly engaged and love hearing about Ouray."
The Visitor's Center, operated by the chamber, greeted 33,437 visitors last year, which is slightly down (two percent) from 2012. However, visits remained consistent with the chamber's four percent growth trend over a three-year period.
For the upcoming year, OCRA's strategic plan will focus on marketing to encourage prosperity and growth through tourism, said Papenbrock.
In the chamber's 2014 Marketing Program Overview, the organization's plan includes an emphasis on cohesive campaigns for traditional markets (the "Texas," "Long Day Drive," and "Front Range Outdoor Enthusiasts" groups) and season-specific groups (Jeep enthusiasts, ice climbers). The chamber will allocate advertising spending to "best-performing buys" that give "value-added pieces like leads and trackable information." The report also outlines specific campaign goals and objectives to track progress.
"Just because we have a specific campaign or objective does not mean that we let everything that we have been doing in past years go," the report read. "These are new objectives to drive our marketing program forward, to collect more data or to approach new markets."
With new goals and a realigned focus, Gulde said she sees the chamber continuing to improve as time goes on.
"In future years, the leadership will be able to manage the organization on a much higher professional level," she said. "It's nice to be part of this transitional team and I see OCRA only getting more efficient."