The following editorial by Tourism and Prosperity Partnership communications manager Andrew Sandstrom first published in the Jan. 2, 2020, edition of the Gunnison Country Times. It is the second installment of a five-part series.
In part 2 of this series we will focus on the Tourism and Prosperity Partnership’s (TAPP) primary and oldest mission, tourism marketing.
Like many of us here in the Gunnison Valley, I first came as a tourist. Since then, I have decided to call this place home and raise my family here.
When I first arrived–fresh out of college and during the height of the Great Recession–I began working at the Elevation Hotel. During that time, the hotel was closed for 2+ months on either side of the seasons. These 4-5 months of unemployment each year forced me to retreat back to the Front Range to scrape together odd jobs and pay my rent back in Crested Butte.
In 2009, Gunnison County voters were asked for a second time if they supported taxing visitors 4% on their lodging stays for tourism promotion. Voters overwhelmingly approved the Local Marketing District (LMD) tax in perpetuity with 2,790 residents voting in favor of it and just 822 voters opposed.
Since 2009, tourism has grown and allowed for more year-round jobs in the valley. Recently there have been rumblings that our valley needs to stop tourism marketing in order to alleviate overcrowding.
Oddly enough, the state of Colorado provides a cautionary case study on what happens when marketing is defunded. Recently at the Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference (GovCon) in Denver, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Betsy Markey, head of the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade, reminded the group of the 30% drop in tourism (the No. 2 industry in Colorado) when the Colorado Tourism Office was defunded in 1993. By 1995, the state was losing $1.4 billion annually, and losses grew to $2 billion annually in subsequent years. This loss was primarily in the summer, as the ski industry banded together with marketing to keep wintertime flat.
Stopping marketing wouldn’t freeze our tourism at current levels. It would most likely lead to a precipitous decline similar to Colorado’s.
Yes, it is hard to see our favorite local restaurant with a line out the door. On the flip side, busier seasons mean that more locals don’t have to leave home to find work every off-season. Most of our local economy is dependent on visitors bringing money into the valley. How can we keep ourselves employed year-round without overrunning our backyard?
At TAPP, we strive to attract the right type of visitors who have the same love for this place that brought us here. Our efforts are to invite “temporary locals” to fill the hotel rooms and businesses. Our marketing has been almost totally focused on trails. We feel the trails and public lands are the main reasons we all chose to be here. By pushing this message, we speak almost exclusively to people who share our love of public lands, trails and stewardship.
In 2019, 35% of Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association members had non-local addresses, and a staggering 45% of the $1,000+ donors or “founding members” had non-local addresses. Our messaging via the Never-Never Land video series follows personalities in our community and focuses on what they love about it here. By attracting like-minded visitors, we are bringing in stewards who care for our backyard as much as we do. Highlighting our valley’s values in advertising will continue to attract the “temporary locals” that we are looking for and hopefully keep our locals working year-round.
In the next installment come February, we will focus on TAPP’s efforts to mitigate the impacts of greater visitation and the sustainable tourism aspects of our mission.
Andrew Sandstrom has worked as the Communications Director for the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism and Prosperity Partnership, formerly the Tourism Association, since January 2017.