The Aspen Chamber Resort Association plans to back off on promoting tourism in shoulder seasons as part of a larger effort to manage crowds and improve the quality of life for residents.
That’s just one strategy in ACRA’s recently released Aspen Destination Management Plan, which has been seven months in the making involving 1,300 resident surveys, town halls, workshops, interviews with community leaders and research done by consultant Destination Think.
One of the big takeaways from the outreach is that locals want their offseasons back.
For several years ACRA has aggressively marketed Aspen tourism in the spring and fall months and it’s clear that the agency’s efforts have resulted in too much pressure on the resort community, said Eliza Voss, ACRA vice president of destination marketing.
“That is a pretty big change in the way ACRA would go about marketing,” she said last week. “Part of that is we need to come back to the community because we heard it loud and clear that we need to protect the shoulder seasons, but what does that really mean for people?”
Voss added that ACRA will no longer be actively doing acquisition marketing for September and October.
“That’s not what the community wants or needs at this time,” she said. “Ultimately if the residents are happy the visitor experience is going to be improved so we are trying to find that balance.”
That won’t prevent for-profit organizations and lodges from marketing Aspen, but ACRA will turn its focus on educating tourists on the values of the community.
Whether to continue marketing the spring months has not been determined.
“We need to reengage with the community and define what we want our shoulder season to look like,” Voss said.
ACRA needs to determine whether the benefits of infilling the offseasons outweigh the negative impacts. Those who were surveyed and have a stake in the community have expressed that there is a limited period for businesses and residents to rejuvenate between seasons. A lack of down time can upset the balance between visitors and residents, the plan noted.
Limiting the promotion of offseasons is one of many actions in the destination management plan, which identified three “pillars” that have strategies attached to them.
Those pillars are addressing visitor pressure, enhancing the Aspen experience, and preserving small-town character.
The destination plan is in response to a growing sentiment from locals that there are too many people flocking to Aspen and not all of them appreciate or respect the way of life here, which is to tread lightly on the environment and treat each other with respect.
The plan aims to protect the quality of life for residents and preserve the very reason people enjoy coming to Aspen.
“Based on the findings, we defined the ‘Aspen challenge’ as follows: Aspen is a place that has become so popular that the ideal ‘win-win’ situation is not currently possible,” reads the destination management plan’s executive summary. “As a result, ACRA needs to reflect on how Aspen can survive its reputation (unhappy residents pose enormous business risks), socially (gentrification and seasonal impacts), environmentally (visitor pressure) and even existentially (losing its soul) … if Aspen chooses to maintain the status quo, it will not only have a negative impact on the quality of life for residents, but also begin to limit investment opportunities for the local economy.”
ACRA will take on a lead, advocate or partner role in issues like enhancing visitor education, catalyzing sustainable choices, and diversifying visitor markets.
The plan suggests ACRA stop advertising to direct fly and luxury markets and pursue passion- and value-based targeting instead of geography and demographics.
One of the plan’s conclusions addresses the mentality of newcomers to the community.
“There are also some residents that do not fully participate in the Aspen community,” the plan reads. “By actively promoting Aspen’s ‘mind, body and spirit’ mentality and actively inviting new residents and second-home owners to community events, perhaps ACRA can encourage residents to integrate themselves more into the community and reciprocate some of the value they derive from Aspen.”
Voss said that could be in the form of an ambassador program with locals guiding new residents.
“Maybe ACRA has an opportunity to partner with the city on welcoming new residents,” she said. “So instead of everybody being frustrated by the meld not happening naturally, can we provide opportunities with the Aspen Historical Society to do Aspen history 101 and kind of a welcome wagon?”
ACRA also is working to translate the plan’s strategies into a framework that will encapsulate its “Defy Ordinary” brand promise and reflect the sentiment that residents have been heard, and the agency is taking meaningful action to address their concerns.
In addressing visitor pressure, ACRA could advocate for free bus service from Aspen to Glenwood and a direct shuttle between the airport and downtown.
The plan even suggests that visitors pay a toll on Maroon Creek Bridge to discourage too much traffic.
In preserving small-town character and advocating for housing crisis solutions, ACRA might support a tax on short-term rental properties that will fund affordable housing initiatives and also push for a short-term accommodation study with reliable data.
The plan, which cost $123,780, was paid for by ACRA’s destination marketing department. It is under contract with the city of Aspen to provide destination management services.
The plan will be presented to Aspen City Council on Tuesday during a work session that begins at 4 p.m. in the new council chambers in City Hall on Galena Plaza.
“I hope people will read the plan and are optimistic and inspired,” Voss said.