As the language of the recently passed ballot measure, 1-A, states, 55% of the new lodgers tax will fund “Sustainable Tourism Marketing.”
Stewardship is at the core of Visit Durango’s mission. The first step toward ensuring sustainability is making sure we are attracting the right visitors to our county. In order to maintain the ecological, cultural and economic integrity of our unique community, we want to attract tourists who share our values. Visit Durango’s goal is what industry thought leader Bill Geist calls “regenerative tourism,” rather than “extractive tourism” – meaning we want to bring people here who will add more than they take.
Following in line with the Colorado Tourism Office, Durango targets the “high-value” traveler. When we have used this term in presentations and meetings in the past, sometimes the audience will balk. Our locals fear that “high-value” means we only want to attract rich tourists. That fear carries over to its potential effect on our culture. For clarification, no one wants Durango to become a destination that only caters to the elite. Durango will not become another Colorado mountain town where only the wealthy can afford to travel and live.
A “high value” traveler is a visitor who adds something to our community that we want. This is not entirely tied to economics. Yes, we do want to market to groups with disposable income who can afford to travel – that is just common sense – but we aren’t willing to attract just anyone who will spend a buck. We want visitors to contribute to our financial system in a meaningful way. We want to bolster the county’s economy by funneling money to our local businesses, our independent mom and pop shops and our other economic segments in need.
Visitor value comes in other forms too. One way a traveler can contribute to our community is by enriching the cultural fabric. For this reason, we place a higher value on travelers from diverse backgrounds. This can mean families and groups of the BIPOC community, those who identify as LGBTQ or those with unique accessibility needs. Inclusivity is an important value for our residents, and for that reason, it is also something we value in our travelers.
Additionally, with off-peak season marketing as a top goal for Visit Durango, we appreciate the travelers who are drivers of dispersion. Dispersion can be geographic or temporal. We assign a higher value to travelers who are willing to get off the beaten path. We don’t need more pedestrians on Main Avenue on summer Saturdays or additional hikers at Ice Lakes. The tourists who are willing to explore beyond the top attractions and bucket-list spots help expand the positive impacts. We also appreciate those who will visit mid-week or in the off-peak season.
As we identify people who share our community values, we also, naturally, land on sustainably-minded travelers. We want those who will lightly impact our resources. While Visit Durango is committed to educating our visitors about how to reduce their impact and be conscientious when visiting, it is ideal if we attract people who are already knowledgeable about stewardship. Visitors who follow our Care for Durango principles are a great target for marketing. We aim to attract those who are trustworthy and respectful of our community, recreate responsibly, leave no trace and recognize the rules regarding fire safety and other important issues.
For these reasons, Visit Durango focuses on attracting select groups of travelers. For example, retired road trippers are a great target as they have many of the attributes we look for. Visit Durango is enhancing our international presence, as most overseas visitors come from diverse backgrounds, spend more money per trip on average and are drawn to the off-peak season and mid-week stays. Additionally, true cycling enthusiasts know that fall and spring are great times to ride, which works in our favor, as those are times when hotel occupancy is down. Cyclists also tend to have money to spend and are naturally sustainability-minded.
These are just some of the groups our marketing team focuses on. Data and research help drive us toward the tourists with true value. So, the next time you hear the term “high-value” traveler, remember that there is a lot more to value in a visitor than just their pocketbook.
Rachel Brown is executive director of Visit Durango. She can be reached at (970) 828-1038 or [email protected]