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Some Colorado Mountain Towns Redirect Tourism Focus To Stewardship Messaging

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - Some Colorado mountain communities are altering their approach to tourism to manage the guest experience amid an affordable housing crisis and subsequent labor shortage.

"We really took a step back and said, 'Maybe now is not the time to keep the peddle on the gas on the marketing,'" said Andrew Sandstrom, Marketing Director For the Gunnison Crested Butte Tourism Association. "(We said) 'What can we do to better help the community? To better help the visitor experience when they're here?'

"So we made the decision about a month ago to turn off our summer marketing promotions. We transitioned some of those contracted impressions in marketing to some stewardship messaging.

Crested Butte was faced with a record-breaking summer and realized it didn't need to market to tourist, and the new stewardship messaging it has focused on has helped greatly in other areas.

"One big change that we have here this summer is that many of our drainages have gone from dispersed camping to designated camping only, so we moved a lot of the messaging toward that. In addition, one of our missions outlined by our county commissioner was also to help Western Colorado University, which is in Gunnison, so we transitioned some of those contracted impressions to helping with movement and retention for Western," he said.

The pandemic exacerbated the housing crisis for most of the high country. In Telluride for instance, the Colorado Sun reported a councilwoman there would like to transition the town's $2 million marketing budget toward solutions for the housing crisis.

In Buena Vista, the tourist crowds were more about vaccination rates, which is below 70% in Chaffee County. There was a real concern of another surge among public health officials, and as a result, the annual Seven Peaks Music Festival was canceled due to capacity restrictions. Concert promoters wanted 20,000 people, but the public health department believed that number was far too risky.

"Despite what some may believe, the public health system and its supporters still have concerns that we are clearly not out of this global pandemic," wrote Andrea Carlstrom, via email, the Director of Public Health for Chaffee County. "We are not Denver. We are a small county with finite resources. We also don't want to be a vector to an outbreak that could have been prevented, possibly saving lives.

I know I, along with our county's Board of Health, have been the target of backlash regarding maintaining our integrity when it comes to our local response, but our public health system exists to protect the health of the communities we serve. Looking at what is happening in other counties and in states across the nation, the future is concerning. It is unfortunate that there are people who are convinced this pandemic is over, and they might be 'over it,' but COVID-19 is not 'over us' yet."

In the town of Breckenridge, while summer numbers are even with 2019, throngs of people are visiting trying their best to have a normal summer vacation, and businesses are struggling to keep up.

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"Businesses in town, that's boutiques, restaurants, lodges, they are short staffed, and they may limit their offerings," said Austyn Dineen, Director of Public Relations for the Breckenridge Office of Tourism.

Breckenridge isn't doing away with marketing to tourists, but it does have a new campaign to remind them, that behind the scenes, the struggle is real.

"We're calling it our responsible stewardship campaign and locally you'll see it in business windows. You'll see it in marketing while you're in town on radio and TV," Dineen said. "We're just reminding guests, let's just all work together to be patient and kind to those people who are working really hard right now."


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