With the city of Durango election upon us and the lodgers tax increase, 1-A, on the ballot, there are a lot of questions circulating about a critical topic: sustainable tourism.
Durango is the first city in Colorado to put “sustainable tourism marketing” on the ballot. We should be proud of this progressive step because it is groundbreaking. The city of Durango is leading the charge on the transition from “destination marketing” to “destination management and marketing.”
If you are a regular reader of my “Tourism Effect” column, you will know that I’ve been championing destination management for La Plata County since I first became executive director of Visit Durango.
Sustainable tourism marketingThe Tax Locals Don’t Pay – Vote Yes on 1-A Committee recently commissioned a sustainable tourism white paper, written by All In Strategic Consulting. This paper’s findings are compelling and would serve as a jumping-off point for Durango’s new sustainable tourism marketing direction.
The most common misconception about sustainable tourism is that it is only focused on the natural environment, the land, the flora and the fauna of the region. That is only a part of sustainability. Visit Durango’s practicing definition of sustainable tourism is “tourism that takes full account of current and future economic, social and environmental impacts while addressing the needs of all stakeholders: visitors, the tourism industry, the environment and host communities.”
Progress so farVisit Durango has already made great strides for sustainable tourism. In 2019, our organization restructured from a DMO to a DMMO (destination management and marketing organization). In April 2020, Visit Durango created a sustainable and responsible tourism task force including local stakeholders from a variety of public and private entities, including the city of Durango, Local First, Durango Trails, 4CORE, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, San Juan Mountains Association, Fort Lewis College Environmental Center and others. Visit Durango conducted the region’s first resident sentiment survey to identify the most important issues to the community. We took these findings and used them as a guide as we rolled out the “Care for Durango” campaign in partnership with the city of Durango. The campaign included Main Avenue banners, social media videos, informational posters, ski-shaped sidewalk decals and supporting communications. These public information messages urged visitors to respect the community and its resources. In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, new responsible travel messages were developed and promoted: “Mask Up” and “Enjoy Durango (Responsibly).”
Earlier this year, Visit Durango entered a partnership with the San Juan Mountains Association, which will provide a Forest Ambassador for the Durango Welcome Center this summer to teach visitors about proper trail usage. Typically, partnerships like this are fee-based and require staff time and resources. Additional money would increase Visit Durango’s ability to partner with more local and national organizations.
Future of sustainable tourism in DurangoCreating a high-functioning tourism ecosystem that benefits visitors and residents is a priority for Visit Durango. While progress has already been made, increased funding would help the industry do more to protect our community, cultural and natural assets in effective and sustainable ways. Visit Durango has a wishlist of innovative plans for the potential increase in funding:
Create a sustainable tourism and policy division at Visit Durango.Off-peak season marketing and advertising for a healthier economy.Advertising that specifically targets responsible travelers.More partnerships with local and national organizations and campaigns (Pledge to the Wild, Global Sustainable Tourism Council, Leave No Trace, etc.).Become Mountain IDEAL certified.Hire a consultant with expertise in diversity, equity and inclusion.Become Travel Unity certified to identify and develop areas for improvement.Complete the Destination Marketing Accreditation Program.Make sustainable upgrades to Durango Welcome Center, including an interactive exhibit that educates about the local environment.Year-round Forest Ambassador in the Durango Welcome Center.Create a sustainable tourism and DEI training program and possible certification for local hospitality workers.Advocate for more infrastructure like EV charging stations, trash cans at river put-ins, protecting public lands, etc.Trail maintenance and cleanup days.Explore a trail ambassador program or partnership.Economic impact study conducted by a third-party specialist.Continue gathering community feedback to guide new techniques, practices, and strategies.Visit Durango is committed to sustainable tourism marketing, regardless of any election results. However, funding will enable the success of more programs and partnerships. We hope to heighten the level and quality of tourism management for La Plata County today, tomorrow and in the years to come.
Rachel Brown is executive director of Visit Durango. She can be reached at (970) 828-1038 or email@example.com.