From the Chamber: Maintaining a balance |

From the Chamber: Maintaining a balance

Kara Stoller
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Kara Stoller

COVID-19 taught our community and the country many lessons and shifted our priorities and perspectives. Last spring, we saw firsthand what happens when we don’t have visitors: Businesses shutter, tax collections plummet and services are cut.

Sure, you may have enjoyed quieter trails than usual, but that came at a cost. We need visitors to our area to support our economy; however, we also want to maintain our prized quality of life. So how do we find that balance?

Tourism produces jobs and provides revenue for city services. As we respond to current conditions and plan for the future though, we need to look beyond the economic benefits. We need to focus on stewardship of the environment, protecting our unique culture and heritage and elevating our community. This is destination management work the Chamber has been doing for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the need to elevate this work to the forefront.

Visit Responsibly is a program we established to help educate visitors. It’s a way to identify what is uniquely important to our area and provides a platform to educate and share resources. In order to protect our quality of life and unique cultural identity, we need to make clear expectations for our visitors. This became a necessity in 2020 with the pandemic-related restrictions in Routt County.

Visitors sought out information on what to expect during their visit, and we let them know that we expected visitors to follow our local regulations. Not everyone liked that, and not everyone listened. But we find that most visitors do want to respect our culture and values.

Visit Responsibly identifies behaviors we want to influence. Each category identifies an area of concern, from wildfire prevention to reducing traffic and even how to properly cross Lincoln Avenue, then provides education and resources.

We include information on health and safety, giving back and a reminder to just be kind to one another. We also highlight our partnership with Care for Colorado and Leave No Trace, a program that started several years ago and becomes more relevant each year.

The best information in the world won’t do any good if no one knows about it, though. That’s why we’ve put a comprehensive plan into place to proactively push visitors to these values and expected actions. We’re using social media and geotargeted display ads to bring people to our content. We include Visit Responsibly tips on every visitor email we send. Every writer we talk to through our public relations efforts will hear our messaging.

Recently, the Chamber submitted a proposal to Steamboat Springs City Council to repurpose the current 2A Accommodation Tax, a tax paid by visitors in local lodging, to go toward destination marketing and management. The Chamber, as well as many other government and land agencies, have been implementing destination management practices, like Visit Responsibly, for many years.

We believe it’s time to elevate our efforts to help ensure tourism continues to add value to our community. Though we have decided to pause the ballot initiative for now, the work continues to be of critical importance. Over the next year, we’ll work with city staff and council members, local businesses and community members to create a path toward ensuring we have the support to move ahead.

We all share the responsibility to make our city a better place. Please join us and amplify our Visit Responsibly efforts. Set the example: Let’s model the behaviors we expect from our visitors. Share some local knowledge. Don’t assume someone knows what to do, even if it seems obvious to you.

Share genuine Steamboat hospitality with visitors and each other. That driver that just can’t seem to figure out the zipper merge might be a visitor from out of town, or they might be your neighbor. Both deserve some kindness. Finally, reach out to the Chamber with ideas of what we can include in our content.

In a community where so many of our jobs and revenue come directly or indirectly from visitors to our area, it’s clear that tourism matters.

Maintaining the balance of promoting our area while also protecting the integrity of our resources, quality of life for residents and quality of experience for visitors will help ensure that Steamboat remains an incredible place now and for generations to come.

Kara Stoller is CEO of Steamboat Springs Chamber.

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