Budget season and beyond: Balancing community needs through destination stewardship
CEO of Steamboat Springs Chamber
As the last of the aspens are shedding their leaves and the first snow has dusted the valley, it seems fitting to reflect upon our work this summer.
The Steamboat Springs Chamber was hard at work over the past few months, advocating for businesses, hosting professional development sessions and connecting our community through programs, educational opportunities, business resources and partnerships. We also worked as a champion for a thriving community through our role as the Destination Organization for the area.
Communities around the world rely on Destination Organizations to represent the voice of their destination to current and potential visitors. Since 1984, the Steamboat Springs Chamber has served as the Destination Organization for our area through a partnership with the City of Steamboat Springs.
This summer was the first time since 1984 that we paused promoting visitation to our area for the entire season. After the pandemic, we saw a strong recovery, for reasons ranging from consumers with greater spending power to pent-up travel demand after being cooped up inside. Destinations with outdoor appeal, like Steamboat Springs, were a popular choice with travelers. We’ve also seen some changes to the demographics of our community. We’re seeing the effects of the Mountain Migration, increasing housing prices and inflation unlike many of us have ever seen.
To respond to the changing needs of our community and through the direction of City Council and input from residents, we’ve evolved our efforts as a Destination Organization. We reduced our promotional efforts and embraced destination stewardship. Tourism is absolutely a valuable part of our economy, but it is part of a balance. We are dedicated to helping find that balance between the quality of life for residents and the quality of a visitor experience.
Funding for destination stewardship and visitor services comes from the City’s general fund rather than a dedicated lodging tax, which is the most common funding source around the state. As a result of this arrangement, the Chamber presented a proposal for the following year’s Destination program to City Council as we do each year at this time. Next, the City worked to balance its 2024 budget and decide how much to allocate to this program. Then, just last week, City Council approved a second reading of the entire City budget.
Our 2024 proposal to City Council included a small budget to bring back moderate brand awareness efforts in addition to our continuing destination stewardship work. Attracting new visitors is critical to supporting our businesses and the tax collections that we rely on. Estimates suggest that about 40% of our sales-tax collections come from visitors, and the lodging taxes that visitors pay fund many of the amenities we all enjoy. We also can’t overlook the importance of the new STR tax, paid by our visitors, that we will rely on to help fund affordable housing. For 2024, $600,000 has been allocated to the destination organization contract. This budget doesn’t allow for reintroducing brand awareness, so we will continue to focus on current visitor services and destination stewardship efforts.
This year during the budget process, we heard concerns about the effectiveness of our efforts. Some emphasis was placed on metrics that were not agreed upon as a measure of success when we shared our plan earlier this year or that we feel is relevant to what we’re trying to accomplish. What we set out to accomplish this year was broad awareness of our destination stewardship campaign, Kindness Floats the Boat. Our goal was that every visitor would encounter our message at least once during their visit, through our banner over Lincoln Avenue, radio ads, social media or a paid digital campaign targeting visitors who are already in our area.
We had many in-person interactions at the Farmers Market, at special events and in our Visitor Center. We shared the Code of Kindness, which has been seen over 1,000 times. We exchanged visitors’ single-use plastic water bottles with reusable Kindness Floats the Boat bottles. We take our role as stewards of this incredible place seriously, and we delivered on our goal to reach people with our destination stewardship message.
As we look ahead to 2024, we will continue and evolve these efforts. We’re partnering with the Colorado Tourism Office, local stakeholders and community members to refine our efforts through a community-first approach. Our focus will be to continue to engage with and serve the visitors who are already in town. All our efforts will work to achieve a balance of quality of life for residents and quality of experience for visitors.
Our staff, board of directors and committee members are extremely dedicated to doing what’s best for this community where we each live, work and play. We deeply appreciate the privilege to serve in the ways we do and are committed to the continued vibrancy and success of this incredible place. To ensure this valley stays vibrant, we will continue to champion our local community while also supporting its tourism industry. In an incredible place like this, the coexistence of these efforts is the reality, and is essential.
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