As the region’s tourism industry has developed over the decades, we have become comfortably successful but also highly dependent on a single type of visitor: the leisure traveler.
These are wonderful types of visitors to host because they are here for fun and adventure. Whether we are teaching them to ski, guiding their river raft, or leading their mountain bike tour, it’s a fun job to help people have fun.
Our collective marketing efforts reach out to attract this type of visitor, and for now, thousands choose to come our way, and many plan to come back. In that success, we are failing to recognize the longer-term vulnerability of dependence on the leisure traveler, and failing to plan for a more resilient future industry.
First, the leisure traveler is the segment most highly competed for and therefore most easily lured away by the marketing efforts of other destinations. As communities tout new amenities, promote discounts, or turn up the advertising heat it becomes ever more difficult to compete for our own customer base. It’s a costly, escalating battle that’s hard to win, and easy to understand tourists’ desires to try other destinations.
Leisure travelers are also prone to altering their vacation plans or completely canceling a reservation based on external circumstances totally out of our control. A partial list would include national or regional economic downturns, fluctuations in gas prices and jet fuel, natural disasters like the Missionary Ridge Fire and Gold King Mine spill, the unreliability of air service, or even fickle weather patterns such as too much heat in summer or too little snow in winter. These realities can’t be overcome with a strategy of “Better luck next year.”
A future Durango tourism industry that is both sustainable and resilient is one that is more balanced and diversified. Consider the “purposeful traveler” who visits a destination not by choice, but by commitment.
For example, the business traveler who comes to attend a fall meeting or conference. The large venue outdoor concert attendee who buys tickets and reserves rooms weeks in advance. Sports organizers commit to tournaments and bring teams, coaches and families. The arts and theater customer makes advance bookings to attend plays and performances. These types of visitors are committed and profitable, but to compete for the purposeful traveler requires “purpose-built” facilities.
Understandably, up until now the easier route is to buy a Jeep, get a permit, and sell wilderness tours than it is to build a conference center, a performing arts center, sports complexes, or outdoor festival venues. These types of purpose-built facilities are large capital investments that take time, will, commitment, and, of course, money.
But they also complete a community, enhance the region culturally and open up significant new business opportunities. If we consider ourselves present and future regional leaders, then it’s time to include these types of facilities in our vision and planning.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Bob Kunkel is executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office.