Every destination management and marketing organization across the globe, like Visit Durango, is in a pickle right now.
The business community is urging DMMOs to invite visitors back and ramp up advertising. The resident and public health community fear spikes in visitation may potentially expose the community to an outbreak of COVID-19. DMMOs who have been explicit about not wanting visitation are being vilified in the media. Those that are too aggressive about opening the floodgates are receiving backlash as well. Most political entities are punting the responsibility. No one wants to be the bad guy.
It’s not just the tourism attractions, like the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Purgatory Resort, that depend on visitation. Forty-eight percent of customers to Durango’s restaurants in an average year are visitors. Sixty-two percent of retail shop patrons are out-of-towners. Some of our beloved Durango businesses have already ceased operations permanently. For the business community to stay afloat, they need customers. They want to give employees their jobs back and they need revenue in order to stop accumulating debt.
Officials have implemented clear restrictions for a number of industries such as restaurants, retail and outfitters. However, the rules surrounding travel seem intentionally vague. In a meeting with a Colorado state government policy advisor last week, I asked the hard questions. I said that Visit Durango is paying attention to the language on the State’s website including “discourage non-essential travel” and the “10-mile suggested recreation radius.” I asked if these were the correct indicators to base our strategy. He said they were not. He said it was unfortunate that people were looking at “that language to make their decisions.” This seemed contradictory. So, even more directly, I asked, “Is it responsible for us to promote travel and visitation to Durango right now?” Unfortunately, he completely dodged the question.
Luckily, when I asked these questions to Durango’s elected officials, I was given more clear answers. Local government officials agreed it is okay to move forward with inviting visitors. They understand the struggle our businesses are facing right now. They also realize that tourism is La Plata County’s largest industry and accounts for 30% of our economy. For Durango to thrive on the other end of this crisis, we need to be one of the first DMMOs back into the marketplace. Most importantly, they realized Durango has taken the right direction and put the correct measures in place to protect our community.
We know it is safe to bring back visitors because our area was able to effectively slow the spread and flatten the curve. The number of daily positive COV1D-19 cases has remained flat since the first positive case was reported to La Plata County on March 14. The greatest spike in numbers occurred in early April, when four positive cases were reported for a single day. Our curve has remained flat for 46 days. Thanks to hard work of San Juan Basin Public Health and the community’s sacrifices, La Plata County is in the bottom 20% of Colorado counties in cases per capita, despite high growth rates in San Juan County, New Mexico and the Navajo Nation.
We are also well-prepared. Social distancing and the City’s mandatory mask ordinance have helped slow the spread and will continue to protect locals and visitors. Local hospitals have completed a medical surge plan and are able to care for patients without resorting to crisis standards of care.
Visit Durango is in the process of launching a safety-focused campaign, #CareForDurango. This campaign will highlight extra precautions businesses are taking to keep their properties clean and customers and residents safe. Durango is a healthy community and we plan on keeping it that way. We will highlight all the public health order recommendations and tenants of responsible tourism, including: Wear a mask in public, don’t travel if you are feeling sick, discourage travel for the at-risk population, keep a ski’s length apart (the Colorado version of social distancing), and Leave No Trace. One reason we feel comfortable re-opening is because La Plata County has effectively slowed the spread and built in safety measures.
Visit Durango is preparing to flip the switch on several marketing campaigns. In order to remain cautious, our recovery marketing strategy takes a phased approach. As travel restrictions loosen, our reach of ad campaigns and the breadth of activities we highlight will also broaden. As we transition into phase one of recovery, ads will be targeted at in-state visitors and highlighting outdoor recreation and other activities where visitors can easily social distance. Eventually we will resume travel marketing to fly-markets and highlight all our tourism offerings, but throughout every phase, the safety and health of our residents and out-of-towners will remain the top priority. La Plata County officials and stakeholders will continue to communicate, collaborate and closely monitor the health of our community. We will move forward with optimism, but prepare for any situation that may cross our path.
Rachel Brown is the executive director of Visit Durango. She can be reached at 261-1052 or email@example.com.