State tourism director stands behind ‘Let’s CO’ 4-tiered marketing plan
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Barbara Robinson, general manager of Holiday Inn Steamboat Springs, was a bit surprised after reading a story about out-of-state visitors not being welcomed in Colorado.
“I have known of Cathy (Ritter) for almost 20 years,” Robinson said. “I don’t know anyone who loves Colorado tourism more than she does, so when I saw that, I was like, that doesn’t sound like her.”
Ritter is director of the Colorado Tourism Office and was the source of a story that aired on FOX31, was picked up by the Associated Press and published in the May 14 edition of Steamboat Pilot & Today with the headline, “Tourism officials ask travelers to stay away from Colorado.” She said the story didn’t accurately represent the interview or reflect what her office’s “Wait, Ready, Set, Go” marketing plan is all about.
“In no way did I ever say that Colorado might be urging travelers to stay away this summer,” Ritter said of her quotes in a story about marketing the state to tourists in the wake of the pandemic. “Obviously, our state is taking steady positive steps toward reopening with careful attention toward public health guidance. And we have been putting together, in consultation with state public health officials, a plan to reactivate Colorado’s tourism economy at the earliest opportunity.”
The Colorado Tourism Board has presented a four-phase program called “Let’s CO” for navigating a way to market the state safely and responsibly. Phase one — Waiting to CO — will encourage travelers to keep Colorado at the top of their minds and choose to visit here when the time is right.
The second phase — Ready to CO — will be aimed at encouraging Colorado residents to explore their state and places like Steamboat Springs.
The third phase — Set to CO — will likely reach out to neighboring states to the “drive” market.
“There’s a lot of research this year showing that people are more willing than ever to jump in the family car for their summer vacation,” Ritter said. “I saw one study recently that said more than 25% of travelers this summer were willing to drive more than 13 hours to their vacation destination. … That’s a huge departure from the past.”
The final Let’s CO phase will be a national effort that brings tourism back to what it was prior to COVID-19. But until then, Ritter is hoping that this four-tiered marketing approach will help support Colorado tourist destinations like Steamboat.
“I think we stand in a really great spot,” said Steamboat Springs Chamber CEO Kara Stoller. “We certainly are (a great destination) for the Denver market. You feel like you’ve driven far enough that you’re really getting away from Denver, and then compared to other mountain resorts in Colorado, we are less expensive in regards to the average daily rate for lodging properties.”
She believes Steamboat will be a perfect option for Colorado residents looking for a getaway.
“If people are wanting to get up to the mountains in Colorado but still want to be sensitive to their finances, we are an ideal location,” Stoller said. “Certainly our open space and all the outdoor recreation set us up well.”
Moving Mountain’s Robin Craigen has started a petition on change.org that asks Steamboat Springs City Council and the Routt County Board of Commissioners to consider the need for tourism and events that will attract visitors to town while keeping adequate social distancing and health measures in place.
“I think that unfortunately there’s a lot of misunderstanding right now as to why events aren’t happening,” Craigen said. “People feel that something’s been taken away from them unfairly, without really understanding why the people running those events decided they just couldn’t make it happen.
“What I’m hoping people will get behind is the idea that we have to start somewhere, and that if health guidelines are set by the county commissioners and by the state, and an event meets or exceeds those guidelines, then we should be open to the idea of having that event,” Craigen explained. “There’s so little group business coming to town. I don’t think people realize just how bad it’s going to be. There are virtually no weddings, there are very few family reunions, and there are very few sporting events. It’s going to be quiet.”
Craigen said he isn’t advocating for specific events.
“I’m not here to advocate for Triple Crown. I’m treating them as any other event,” Craigen said. “At this point, we need some business, and if they meet the protocols that are in place, and there’s no guarantee that they can, but if they do, then we should work on that business. That’s all that I’m pushing for.”
“I think the story to tell is that there is a campaign ready to run,” said Robin Craigen, who owns and operates Moving Mountains with properties in Steamboat Springs, Vail and Beaver Creek. “We’re all anticipating that June 1 opening, and that there is a campaign in place is pretty cool in terms of encouraging people to be socially responsible and to do social distancing in the great outdoors.
“We need people to come back and be in our communities,” Craigen continued. “We need them to do it responsibly by trying to do everything we can. But we need a little bit of optimism.”
Robinson has been in the tourism business for nearly 40 years and has been a member of the Chamber’s marketing committee for the past 20.
“We are all locals as well, so we would never want to do anything that hurts the community. … I truly feel we were extremely patient and allowed this community to be comfortable and to take the right steps,” Robinson said. “The restaurant and the retail stores depend on tourism, so at some point, we have to carefully move forward and allow this and sort of regain the normalcy that all of us are looking for.”
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