Colorado is working to set a new roadmap, redrawing the state’s tourism plan and region-centric marketing, the state’s tourism office is kicking off the plan by gathering local input from eight locations statewide in a road trip of sorts.
“We are working on creating the first ever strategic plan, not just for the Colorado Tourism Office but for Colorado tourism industries,” Colorado Tourism Office director Cathy Ritter said. “We want to maximize the potential of what we can bring to our state.”
Ritter was appointed to the CTO in November 2015, and the “Colorado Tourism Roadmap” project is just one of many plans she has in store for the future.
For the meeting in Silverthorne, the office brought on consultants Mitch Nichols, president of Washington-based Nichols Tourism Group, and Dave Radcliffe, president of the Radcliffe Company, to help get the ball rolling.
“There are really a number of objectives in this process,” Radcliffe said. “The obvious is to build a plan that has a vision for the future — a vision that we hope to achieve a certain amount of consensus about.”
The eight-month process is starting with the regional input sessions, which would be analyzed by the end of the summer. Come fall, the CTO will work to craft a series of strategies based on conclusions drawn from the sessions and will present the final plan in December.
“We’re trying to get the perspectives of a wide range of destinations and players,” Nichols said. “At the end of the day, this plan will have some real world potential.”
Wednesday’s conversation centered on four topics: the visitor pool, mix of products, competition and delivery systems (think Interstate 70).
When it came to customers, the discussion centered on international visitors and how to attract more to Summit. This year, the industry faced two major obstacles: Summit County’s smaller reputation among international travelers compared with top-dollar towns Vail and Aspen, and the rise of the U.S. dollar.
While the dollar’s rising value might be a boon for the local consumer, it also has the adverse effect of deterring international visitors and sending more U.S. travelers overseas. The draw of brining in international travelers is longer stay times, which result in more tax dollars to the towns they visit.
“Increasingly, we have to be thinking about, how do we expand our customer offerings. It really becomes imperative,” Nichols said. “We obviously have skiing, but what other sectors? The winter outdoor recreation visitor isn’t in a silo.”
Locals also discussed the role of natural resources in Summit County’s offerings. For example, the high altitude of some local ski resorts may be a boon in the face of global warming in the years to come. The recreation afforded by national forests and the Dillon Reservoir are the area’s largest draws during the summer, but come with the downside that the permitting process for new activities on public land is a lengthy one. For the 106 West Triathlon in Dillon, the first ever to permit swimming in the reservoir, the Denver Water permitting process took about four years.
“The challenge we see all too often… not really reporting a clear set of goals and objectives,” Nichols said. “As we go into 2017, we’ll have this new blueprint.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF INFRASTRUCTURE
Of course, I-70 and the continuous traffic challenges were a hot topic at the conference. While Summit County has the advantage of being a reasonable drive from the Denver International Airport, weekend ski traffic, icy weather and accidents can bring movement to a halt.
Proposed solutions ranged from the large, such as a train connecting the mountain corridor — to the small, such as rideshare incentives for visitors. For example, Peyton Rogers of Great Western Lodging noted that with Uber already established in Breckenridge, UberPool might be an option to reduce traffic for daily commutes.
On that topic, several locals discussed the need for better broadband to support the demands of younger visitors. With the rise of the share market, travel apps and Google maps, most argued these would be key to bringing in the next generation of visitors.
“These new methods of technology and doing business are what the younger generation is used to,” Dillon marketing and communications director Kerstin Anderson said.
“These disruptors are not going to go away,” Nichols agreed.
While the Colorado Tourism Office currently has the state organized by region, several agreed that remapping attractions could allow visitors to discover more activities nearby. Of course, a key piece of this plan includes better collaboration between neighboring towns and regions.
“We should be working more collaboratively,” said Northwest Colorado Cultural Heritage Program coordinator Kathy Cramer. “We need to get out of our own way.”
Others agreed, offering that the CTO could market cross-region experiences, or offer a seasonal map for outdoor activities.
“We keep hearing a lot about the regions. I concur with you about where those lines are drawn,” Ritter said. “I don’t think it’s helpful; it’s not how travelers think.”
With seven months remaining for the statewide planning process, a more complete picture of the results should be available in the future.
“We want to get a sense of how you and all others around the state feel about the product,” Radcliffe concluded. “We hope the industry will own this strategy for a long period of time moving forward.”