Tough Mudder Inc. blinked.
Under questioning from a prospective lodging “partner” about the company’s recent financial demands in return for promoting Santa Rosa County overnight stays at its event scheduled here next April, a company executive now says its fees are negotiable.
A month after sending out controversial contracts to area hotels and condominium managers that require them to discount rooms and pay Tough Mudder a 15 percent commission on each one, the New York-based company met last week with Santa Rosa tourism industry leaders who seek a better deal.
That’s partly because room managers on Navarre Beach point out that Tough Mudder is already slated to receive $80,000 in Santa Rosa bed tax money and a $30,000 grant as inducements to stage its military-style endurance race near Milton for the second time. What’s more, the first Tough Mudder didn’t help Santa Rosa hoteliers much.
“I know that last year we didn’t get one person” who visited for Tough Mudder, said Liz Horton, director of Wyndham Vacation Rentals in Navarre Beach and a member of the volunteer Santa Rosa County Tourism Development Council.
Horton told Tough Mudder Senior Director Kate Fitzpatrick, who traveled to attend a TDC meeting last week: “We’re doing a lot of marketing for… Tough Mudder. We would put it on our website, which is a huge company, Wyndham. We would probably help promote you too.”
Fitzpatrick explained that Tough Mudder has agreed to promote only Santa Rosa properties on its website for next April, including those that don’t pay commissions or discount rooms. “It’s always a conversation with each property to see what makes sense, and if it’s not a fit we understand that too.”
Losing out to Escambia
Further, when TDC member Jack Sanborn quizzed Fitzpatrick about the accuracy of Tough Mudder’s economic impact study of its benefits for Santa Rosa County last March, she said the report may contain figures that include dollars spent in Escambia County.
Indeed, Tough Mudder acknowledged that more participants stayed in Escambia County than in Santa Rosa last March.
Although the report asserts that the one-day gathering generated about $250,000 in taxes from hotels, car rentals and other sources, Sanborn pointed out that “most of the lodging is outside of our county as well as most of the airport and car rental and all that. So what I’m seeing is a quarter million dollars impact to our county. It’s probably not. Is that correct?”
Fitzpatrick responded: “OK. I don’t know. You guys are the experts.” She said that the study, for which Tough Mudder used $4,000 in Santa Rosa bed tax funding to have completed by San Diego State University, relied on a survey of out-of-town visitors. But partly because the survey didn’t ask visitors to pinpoint which hotels or rental condos they stayed in, Fitzpatrick conceded, “It’s hard to define that specifically.”
Sanborn, president of Adventures Unlimited, an outdoor recreation company in Milton, lamented that county commissioners and Economic Development Director Shannon Ogletree relied heavily on Tough Mudder’s study to justify raising Santa Rosa’s
recommended financial support to $110,000, rather than the $20,000 recommend by the TDC.
Further, Sanborn said that Tough Mudder had declined to provide contact information on survey respondents to county tourism leaders because of privacy concerns. Next year, Sanborn contended, survey respondents should be asked to list their email addresses and whether they would be willing to answer more questions separately.
He added, “We can do our own survey.”
District 4 Commissioner Rob Williamson, who has championed the Tough Mudder event, recently requested that the company answer more questions about its economic impact survey and reconsider its commission requirement to promote Santa Rosa lodging.
Williamson told the Navarre Press last week he wanted more discussion about those terms before the commission approves a final contract with the company for the $110,000 in support. That vote will likely come in January.
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