Tourism’s importance to the local economy, tourism’s effect on outdoor recreation, workforce issues and more were topics of recent resident and business surveys and a Future of Tourism Workshop that the Lake County Tourism Panel implemented. All are part of work the Lake County Tourism Panel is doing, with grant funding from the Colorado Tourism Office, to help create a post-pandemic marketing plan that is sustainable and meets locals’ needs.
The first-ever resident survey conducted by the Lake County Tourism Panel produced 254 responses from a mix of people who had lived in the area for a few years and up to 20 years, 78 percent of whom indicated they do not work in the tourism industry. A business survey garnered responses from 43 people, ranging from those who have been working in the tourism industry for less than one year to more than 40 years. Key findings are outlined below:
— Pace of tourism: Residents are divided on the pace of tourism in Lake County. Nearly half (49 percent) disagree or strongly disagree that tourism is increasing at a comfortable pace in Lake County, with 38 percent agreeing or strongly agreeing with the pace and 14 percent neither agreeing nor disagreeing. Residents united on traffic congestion with 91 percent agreeing or strongly agreeing that tourism contributes to parking and traffic problems in Lake County.
— Importance of tourism to local businesses: Most agreed or strongly agreed that their business would not thrive if it were not for the tourism industry (79 percent) and that they enjoy being ambassadors for tourism attractions, products and activities in Leadville/Lake County (70 percent).
Businesses would like to see more visitors in Leadville/Lake County in spring (51 percent), winter (48 percent) and fall (32 percent), with 19 percent saying they would not like to see additional visitors. Only eight percent wanted to see more visitors in summer.
— Business outlook: So far in 2021, 73 percent of those who took the business survey have seen visitation at their organization or business increase from previous years, and 72 percent saw their revenue increase. The majority agree or strongly agree that they have a strong business outlook for the next 12 months (76 percent).
— Tourism’s importance to the local economy: While the majority of resident respondents (89 percent) said that tourism is important to the local economy, they did not connect the local economy to the ways that tourism benefits residents personally. Just under half (49 percent) said that they have access to more quality restaurants, events and attractions because of tourism dollars that support those activities in Lake County. Just over one-third of respondents (35 percent) said that tourism tax revenues lower their state and local taxes on government services.
— Responsible travel: There is a large opportunity to improve messaging around responsible travel, with 54 percent of resident survey respondents saying they disagree or strongly disagree that current promotions are doing a good job of educating visitors on how to be responsible travelers. Wildfire is also a concern, with 82 percent of resident respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing that tourism contributes to wildfire danger in and around Lake County.
Business owners named encouraging responsible visitation as one of the top three priorities they would like to see pursued for the next 12 months (52 percent of respondents chose this priority), and 25 percent named irresponsible visitation by guests as a top business concern for 2021.
The top three behaviors on public lands that business owners would like to see addressed are trash not properly disposed of on trails and in campsites (56 percent), compliance with fire bans (53 percent) and noise/congestion from off-highway vehicles (40 percent).
Residents are split on the prospect of reservation systems for outdoor experiences in Lake County, with 25 percent agreeing they would like to see more reservation systems, 20 percent disagreeing and 30 percent neither agreeing nor disagreeing.
— Tourism and the price of housing: 93 percent agree or strongly agree that tourism has affected the price of housing in Lake County. The majority of resident respondents (52 percent) disagree or strongly disagree that short-term rentals such as Airbnb, VRBO and Homeaway are a positive addition to Lake County.
— Events: Residents expressed strong sentiment for the community to host arts events such as concerts and art walks (80 percent) and events for locals and tourists like Leadville Boom Days (78 percent). Nearly half (47 percent) wanted smaller community races, with 39 percent wanting major races that draw visitors to town, like the Leadville Race Series.
— Business priorities: The top three business concerns for 2021 are staff hiring and retention (cited by 60 percent of respondents), housing costs for employees (43 percent) and supply chain disruptions (32 percent). Statute requires that the Lake County Tourism Panel focus the lodging tax dollars it administers, all paid by visitors, on marketing the community. Yet the panel can express support for measures such as workforce and housing that make local tourism possible.
In addition to encouraging responsible visitation, the top priorities businesses would like to see pursued for the next 12 months are workforce development to meet the tourism industry’s labor needs (56 percent of respondents) and creating/enhancing visitor experiences (35 percent). When asked if local government is going a good job of promoting tourism to Leadville/Lake County, 35 percent agreed, and 33 percent neither agreed nor disagreed.
Future of Local Tourism Workshop
As part of the Restart Destinations grant project, a group of 27 community stakeholders including tourism businesses, county and city government, outdoor recreation stakeholders and more convened on Oct. 28 to discuss survey findings and next steps. The Future of Local Tourism Workshop addressed the following four priorities and assigned action items to each.
As the grant project progresses, the Lake County Tourism Panel will determine which action items it can take on and when, with the Colorado Tourism Office’s support. Below is a sampling from each action item list:
— Encourage responsible recreation: The Lake County Tourism Panel will develop additional educational materials with Leave No Trace and sustainable travel messaging. The panel will reconvene its Outdoor Recreation Group, begun last year with the help of a Colorado Tourism Office CRAFT grant and mentoring hours, in December. This group brings together land management agencies and trail organizations, search and rescue, tourism stakeholders and more to surface outdoor recreation challenges and collaborate on educational messaging for visitors.
— Help our community understand the value of tourism: The Lake County Tourism Panel will provide information on the role tourism plays in supporting the local economy.
— Diversify the visitor experience: The panel will encourage and promote arts events such as the new Colorado Historic Opera Houses Circuit, which will kick off in 2022 and unite five mountain opera houses and destinations through a Colorado Tourism Office Marketing Matching Grant, and inclusive offerings such as the Tabor’s Spanish-language tours.
— Advance our tourism workforce: While this priority is outside of the Lake County Tourism Panel’s statutory role of marketing the community, the panel may advocate for local workforce housing efforts carried out by the city and county and the Lake County Housing Coalition.
“The surveys and Future of Local Tourism Workshop have given us invaluable information on what local residents, business owners and additional stakeholders see as priorities,” said Lake County Tourism Panel Chair Becky Edwards. “We look forward to setting our 2022 priorities to match so that we lead tourism initiatives that truly serve the community’s needs.”
Earlier this year, the Colorado Tourism Office awarded the Lake County Tourism Panel funding through its Restart Destinations program. The program supports Colorado tourism destinations to drive faster recovery as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Funds come from a $2.4 million CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
In addition to the surveys and full-day workshop, the Lake County Tourism Panel will receive 75 hours of customized technical assistance to implement priorities outlined at the workshop and $10,000 in Colorado Tourism Office marketing support, to be spent in early 2022.