ACRA midway through journey to destination marketing plan |

ACRA midway through journey to destination marketing plan

People enjoy the sunshine and summer breeze at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Finding that sweet spot where people visit Aspen for the very reason residents live here is what the Aspen Chamber Resort Association will try to do with the roll-out of its destination management plan in January.

At a virtual Tourism Town Hall held Tuesday, ACRA officials updated the community on a new marketing plan the chamber is establishing in tandem with Destination Think, a Vancouver-based firm that specializes in tourism marketing.

ACRA also is relying on the aid of the community: The effort so far has included a resident sentiment survey that yielded 1,300 responses, in addition to previous town halls held on the matter. Also this week, ACRA and Destination Think are holding workshops with residents and businesses about the future of local marketing.

Officials said they are more than halfway complete toward finalizing the plan, which is aimed to “create a more sustainable tourism landscape in Aspen — one that helps future-proof the industry and helps us better manage and support our lands, our visitors and one another,” according to the event’s registration.

The survey results weren’t released at the town hall, but Frank Cuypers, chief strategist with Destination Tank, briefly summarized its findings, which are in addition to the growing scarcity of worker housing, a crisis plaguing ski towns and compounded by the swelling demand for short-term rentals.

“What we learned about Aspen — staff shortages, gentrification, mountain migration, social inequality, transportation management, economic diversification, people wanting to preserve small-town character, ‘where is the soul of our destination,’ is what you hear a lot, and enhancing tourism experiences, more arts and culture. … So, if I need to wrap it up, I think the challenge is Aspen is so popular, so know how to survive your reputation economically, environmentally, socially and probably existentially.”

The chamber’s roots in a destination marketing plan actually go back to 2016 when it started to focus its public efforts on preserving the local quality of life. ACRA would later come out with “The Aspen Pledge,” a serious yet playful set of commandments for visitors to “forego high fashion, and dress for high elevations,” “leave the wildlife in peace,” or promise to “not ski in jeans,” among other vows.

It also extended the effort through public safety and etiquette campaigns focused on outdoor excursions, and continues to emphasize Aspen through a growing body of videos emphasizing the local experience on the chamber’s website and social media platforms.

“Video content is king,” said Eliza Voss, ACRA vice president, destination marketing.

In the meantime, the chamber brought on Destination Think in July for a six-month job at the cost of $123,000. Since then they’ve been working on crafting a marketing campaign aimed to help Aspen prosper from its success and spoils, rather than becoming a victim of it.

“People need to understand if you go into that mode — tourism at any cost — you might destroy the hand that feeds you,” said Cuypers, suggesting that Aspen would lose the very charm that attracts people here in the first place “if you push back your reputation in the eyes of good visitors. It’s looking for a balance, for sure, and I think it’s feasible.”

Talk to many a local today, and the balance isn’t there, at least on the service side where employees have expressed frustrations of not only being overworked because of labor shortages, but also being underappreciated at the feet of entitled guests.

“We’ve had large reports of rudeness and entitled behavior,” said City Councilwoman Rachel Richards in a question to Cuypers about whether other tourist markets he’s worked with have similar challenges.

Cuypers said there are aggressive and polite ways to have guests play nicely — whether it’s having them signing a pledge or even fining them.

“There’s a lot of things to say about that, it’s a great question, and it’s not only in Aspen,” he said.