The tourist office will conduct a sustainability study
In the two years since COVID-19 arrived in the United States, tourism in Grand County has seen record levels of visitors enjoying all that its landscape has to offer. But while some might see it as a boon, hordes of travelers can lead to “overtourism.” a term describing a level of visitation that can disrupt the quality of life of residents as well as the viability of natural resources and attractions.
“(The concept of overtourism) is easy for residents to understand when they see congested roads, or go to a trail and the parking lot is exhausted, or they find garbage and the trails are in poor condition. “said Ron Ellis, chairman of the Greater Colorado County Tourism Board (GCCTB). “They see what happens when things are not well managed and (tourism) is not balanced.”
In order to strike that balance, cities would do well to understand the intricacies at play when a place like Grand County explodes in popularity. And to that end, the GCCTB will conduct a study on sustainable travel.
Coraggio Group, a Portland, OR-based business management consulting firm, is leading the study. According to their website, their tourism practice brings together urban planners, economists, destination strategists and organizational development experts who create a “total destination health” plan for communities. Coraggio Group customers include Travel Oregon, San Francisco Travel Association, Arizona Office of Tourism, and more.
Ellis explained that the main purpose of the study is to create an action plan.
“This will create a county-wide vision of what sustainable travel means, so different regions can begin to address their individual issues in a coordinated and complementary way,” he said.
The GCCTB is seeking to involve all Greater County stakeholders in the study to determine the unique challenges of each group. Stakeholders include full-time residents, tourism businesses such as resorts and guest ranches, and government entities.
Some challenges are easy to overcome and GCCTB is already looking for solutions.
One is to “educate visitors on how to take care of the environment they use,” Ellis said.
One example is Colorado-based company Leave No Trace, which teaches the importance of leaving nature as you found it.
Another solution is to divert traffic from popular areas, such as Adam’s Falls in Grand Lake or North Inlet Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park.
“There are natural recreation opportunities throughout Grand County. But invariably on a busy summer day it seems like everyone is on the same 2 or 3 trails. We can do things to geographically shift some of that traffic to less traveled areas through education and promotion. Then (visitors) can make decisions like “let’s not fight the crowds here, find another place that doesn’t get so much traffic,” Ellis said.
Examples of less traveled areas may include Wolford Mountain Reservoir in Kremmling or Williams Fork Reservoir in Parshall. These areas may be less crowded, but they are no less beautiful than the more popular spots. Both are great places for fishing, camping, and boating.
“The west side of the county has a lot more growth potential, so let’s move some of the traffic further west, where it’s not as busy.” said Ellis.
Another solution is to spread tourism throughout the year, instead of having peak periods.
“The 4th of July weekend, we don’t need more people!” Ellis said laughing. “But there are many times during the year when the tourist economy does not work, so we have a lot of capacity for additional visitors. We can use our resources to move people around and encourage them to come on vacation. .(like) midweek instead of weekend.
He added that dispersing tourism throughout the year will also help small businesses thrive in shoulder seasons.
The study will also look at the sustainability of large resorts, which attract huge crowds. For example, Winter Park Resort has nearly a million visitors a year and “…may need to do some things itself for a sustainable trip,” Ellis said.
He sees Winter Park Resort and Devil’s Thumb Resort & Spa as two potential partners in GCCTB’s move towards sustainability.
Ellis conceded that the trickiest part of the study is figuring out what works for all facets of the county.
“It’s not a simple thing to balance these competing interests, because they’re competing,” Ellis said. “Winter Park has a different set of problems than Granby, Grand Lake or Kremmling.”
Some county-wide solutions for sustainability would be to improve road infrastructure, expand hiking trail networks, or mitigate construction of second homes to allow for affordable housing.
“These issues get much more complicated and require government involvement, grants or other funding,” Ellis said.
Overall, the study will be an educational experience for stakeholders.
“We all have things to learn in this process,” Ellis said. “The tourism industry needs to think about how to do business without harming the ecosystem…(also) residents need to understand the importance of tourism to our economy.”
Tourism affects everything in Grand, from home construction and property values, to the number of restaurants and shops in the area, to the amount invested in improving trail systems and outdoor recreation. .
“We wouldn’t have all of these attractions and amenities without tourism,” Ellis said. “We must protect the tourism industry as much as possible for our economic benefit, but not at the expense of the environment, natural assets or the quality of life of the people who live here.”
Tourism is a double-edged sword, with both advantages and disadvantages. Visitors will always be drawn to Grand’s pristine outdoors and welcoming small towns, so stakeholders need to be the stewards of the land and people on whom the economy depends.