Tired of bearing most of the business community's share for an airline subsidy program and concerned that the way they were raising the money was illegal, local lodges threw out a 2-year-old resort fee program last week like an unwanted guest. The decision effectively slammed the door, at least temporarily, on the only significant non-Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. revenue source for winter airline subsidies leaving most of the $1.7 million burden to the ski area.
The subsidy program provides airlines with money so they fly planes in and out of the Yampa Valley. The arrangement guarantees the airlines a profit and makes sure that skiers and snowboarders in other parts of the country have a regular chance to hop on a plane to Steamboat.
The end of the 1 percent resort fee program means that other industries, if they want to guarantee the same number of winter tourists we've grown to depend on, will have to dig into their pocketbooks and pitch in.
And that's only fair. For too long, the lodging industry and the ski corp. have born too large a share of the burden of guaranteeing a certain number of airline seats each winter. Since 1998, the call has repeatedly gone out for other business sectors to contribute, but except for $180,000 from the city, $45,000 from the restaurants and $20,000 from the Realtors, that donation call over the last two years has gone unheeded.
If we are to continue seeing the same number of winter visitors, something must be done to fill the void left by the discontinuance of the resort fee. First, there ought to be more from the real estate agents who are profiting handsomely thanks to the efforts to entice people to come here.
The Steamboat Springs Restaurant Association should be applauded for its decision to pass on a quarter percent of sales to the airline subsidy effort. It is important for the residents of this community to see businesses investing in their own future. The one caveat we have for the restaurant association is to make sure there is no reason for residents to believe the quarter-percent subsidy investment is being passed on to them in the form of higher costs. The idea of residents directly paying to bring tourists here won't sit well at all.
It is a valid argument to say that the majority of residents benefit from tourism. The biggest positive impact it has is the creation of jobs that allow many of us to live here. However, there is strong sentiment by many locals that this valley is growing too fast and that tourism is to blame. Other sectors of the business community should unite to help pay airline guarantee costs. But they should take care not to pass along extra costs to residents as a way to bring tourists here. If they do that anti-tourism sentiment could very well turn to action and an anti-growth backlash may knock us all on our tails, like an unwanted guest tossed out of a hotel.