Rate downtown experience

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You can skip the soapbox. Those who ever have felt the urge to stand at the corner of Eighth Street and Lincoln Avenue and shout out their opinions about changes to Steamboat Springs' downtown can get the job done on the Internet this month.

Members of Main Street Steamboat's board of directors have posted a survey at www.yampavalley.info, and they say they want to tap into the way residents respond to the downtown shopping district on an emotional level.

The survey is part of Main Street's effort to establish a brand identity for the downtown shopping district, which also encompasses Yampa and Oak streets.

"We're after a deep, visceral feeling," Main Street branding committee chairman Towny Anderson said. "We want people to tell us the first image that comes to mind (when they think of downtown Steamboat). For some, it's Howelsen Hill. For some, it's Lyon's Drug. That's what we're trying to get at."

The survey shouldn't be a hassle for people to fill out, Main Street Executive Director Tracy Barnett said.

"It's a really quick survey," she said, and the fact that it's online makes it more convenient than a mail-in document. The Internet survey results also will be easy to tabulate. Barnett hopes to have the results before the end of the year, and the branding process is due to be complete by the beginning of summer.

The branding process shouldn't be mistaken for merely developing a logo for downtown, Anderson said.

The ultimate goal is to differentiate downtown Steamboat as a shopping destination.

The information gathered by the survey will be used to develop a positioning statement that defines downtown's brand. It will form the basis for future advertising and Web campaigns.

But it's more than that. Main Street leaders want to know how people perceive the downtown shopping district. And most importantly, they want to know how Routt County residents feel about the shopping, dining and recreational opportunities there. The emphasis on residents is based on the premise that tourists will seek out the places locals frequent.

"The research has really focused on the local," Andy Wirth said. "Locals influence how people outside of the valley see Steamboat."

Wirth is the marketing vice president for the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. His company has learned through surveys that the experiences its guests find in downtown Steamboat, three miles from the ski lifts, have a direct influence on their desire to return for a vacation in the future.

The survey was prepared with the help of Boulder-based research firm RRC Associates. It's the same firm that does the SKI Magazine readers' preference survey on the top ski areas in the country.

The survey asks people a variety of questions to gauge how they feel about downtown Steamboat. They include:

n On your last visit to downtown Steamboat Springs, how much did you spend on shopping, dining and entertainment?

n On your last visit to downtown Steamboat, how did you get downtown?

n If you drove, where did you park your car?

Using a six-point scale ranging from "very negative" to "very positive," respondents are asked to rate their experiences in terms of variety and quality of shopping, variety and quality of restaurants, value for price paid, customer service and safety.

As a second part of the research, teams of area high school and college students will use personal digital assistants to conduct "person on the street" interviews intended to capture responses from more visitors and second homeowners. The PDA's will make it easy to merge those interviews with the Internet survey.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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