Ssssh. The Big Bear Lake Resort Association's success story isn't completely free of freckles, but not too many people want to shout about it. Most RA members and ex-members are so afraid of speaking out against the RA they practically hang up the phone at the mere mention of voicing an opinion. When you pry a little deeper, they'll talk, but only if you don't know their names.
That sort of fear and secrecy is what has caused much of the controversy surrounding the RA. At board meetings, members are sometimes chastised for trying to speak up. Others spend years trying to get on the board because they are suspect of how the money is handled. Others just flat out filed a lawsuit.
In the late 1990s, a lawsuit charged that RA board president and president of Snow Summit Resort Dick Kun was hard-balling people into joining the RA to keep receiving discounted ski lift tickets from the resorts. There were charges the RA favored certain member businesses and prohibited members from subscribing to other referral services.
There were personal attacks, allegations of price fixing, and in the end the lawsuit was defeated, spare some free ski lift tickets and lawyer fees exchanged. Kun and the RA came out on top.
Day-to-day transactions remain a hot issue with some business owners still seven years after the lawsuit was settled. The reservation system seems to be the burning button for most.
“Entopia, I don't care for it,” says Jim Fulton, manager of North Shore Cabins, one of the few willing to give his name. Fulton says the referrals from the RA only seem to come during busy times when the cabins are already plenty booked. “We don't get anything during the off season. We don't get nothing from them.”
Part of the problem seems to be a lack of communication from the upper level management of the RA that focuses solely on marketing Big Bear. RA members who just deal with the bottom line are not seeing the benefits or even aware of an ad in the Los Angeles Times or Family Circle and how that helps their businesses in the big picture.
The RA's clients are not always privy to the science behind the marketing plan or have a gist of what tourism in Big Bear would be like without the public relations and marketing. They just have the headaches of a flawed reservation system that sometimes sends guests to their front desk before the lodge knows the room is booked.
Another accommodations manager who declined to be identified said her lodge is no longer a member of the RA because of billing problems. “Behind the business door, dealing with some of them is not easy,” she says, explaining stumbling blocks with credit card billings in the past.
“I felt what they claim as far as no favoritism is not true either,” she says. For a lodge not yet able to hook into the reservation system online, they are literally left out of the loop more than others.
Another business owner who also spoke on the basis of anonymity said the RA, while a good business model, is not a great one. “When you make it for profit, you end up competing with your own customers,” he says, adding that after paying the dues, he's also approached to pay to advertise in the RA visitors guide and help promote events that do not directly help his business profit.
“The RA should stick to promoting Big Bear as a destination,” he says. “Because they have their own reservation system it makes people suspect. They end up in competition with other places that have their own Web sites.”
As far as events, he is offended when asked to help other businesses profit without his monthly numbers taken into account, he says. “They are taking money for what should be a good thing and at the same time are stabbing their customers in the back.”
Contact reporter Arrissia Owen Turner at (909) 866-3456, ext. 142 or by e-mail at email@example.com.