In 2005, local governments (intent on addressing the waste of money and resources caused by localism and a lack of coordination across the communities) created the current iteration of the Telluride Tourism Board, also known as Marketing Telluride and Visit Telluride, to act as an expert organization that would promote area tourism to build and maintain a more diverse, sustainable economy.
Their intention succeeded. The Mountain Village and Telluride area’s tourism-based economy is indeed now diverse and much closer to being year-round, making it sustainable for the people living and working here.
For instance, 10 years ago almost every restaurant and retail outlet here had to close in off-season, resulting in local workers being without a paycheck for significant periods.
This was fine for young people who took advantage of the time off to travel or visit family, but challenging for anyone who wanted to stay and put down roots in Telluride.
After all, unless you have a trust fund or other source of income, a strictly seasonal economy is not viable long term.
Still, there is a careful balancing act between preserving quality of life for locals, while also bringing in visitors at sufficient levels to keep the local economy diverse and sustainable.
Striking that balance is vital because whether we like it or not, tourism drives the local economy, accounting for 80 percent of economic activity here.
So, the challenge of finding the balance is crucial, and one for which the Telluride Tourism Board is perfectly placed.
First, we understand the difference between helping to market the destination and helping to manage the destination. We have done the former and are currently hard at work doing the latter.
Second, we have spent a decade carefully marketing Telluride for the type of visitors for whom our infrastructure is best equipped and prepared.
Covid upended these efforts by creating the circumstances that drew an unprecedented number of day-trippers to the area last summer, but we have the expertise and resources to both mitigate the impacts of these single-day visitors and begin to rebuild our pre-pandemic visitor base.
Third, the Telluride Tourism Board is a data-driven organization that analyzes and uses data to form an in-depth understanding of tourism and the local economy in order to avoid overly simplistic thinking or knee-jerk reactions. The role tourism plays in our economy is complex and so important that reliance on accurate sets of facts, and not hunches or personal agendas, is key.
We routinely share this expertise with local governments, for example introducing the Town of Telluride to the MUNIRevs web-based software package to help them gain a clearer financial picture, and developing a data set that San Miguel County used when implementing Covid restrictions.
Of course, the economy should not be the only concern. There are other metrics, environmental, creative, nonprofit, transportation, physical and mental health that should be measured. We need to better understand the expansion and contraction of our economy, alongside our health and our wellbeing.
Globally, Covid-19 cost the tourism industry $935 billion (yes, billion) in 2020, according to Forbesmagazine. Here, though, while impacts from the influx of day-trippers and fleeing urbanites were tough, there was also a positive: Tourism shielded much of the local economy from some of the worst effects of the pandemic.
This can be seen in local sales tax receipts. Local sales taxes provide important income to our local governments and are largely borne by visitors. They experienced a mere 5 percent dip between 2019 and 2020 — an indication that business activity here was relatively stable despite the pandemic.
This does not mean that all local businesses were winners. Our “K-shaped” recovery shows that some have remained profitable during the pandemic, while others have not been so fortunate. Tourism will play an important role in their recovery.
Already, other destinations are ramping up tourism spending to draw visitors back. We may not want to do that, but we should certainly avoid the opposite. Tourism is a social-cultural phenomenon that can shift in a heartbeat.
One other note about those fleeing urbanites: When you consider the significant wedge of local properties owned by second homeowners, the area was lucky — not just the community, but our environment as well — not to be crushed by the Covid-induced influx of people seeking to ride out the pandemic in their area homes.
It’s worth noting, too, that in dealing with pandemic-era impacts, the tourism board has sought at every turn to use local knowledge and local understanding to drive initiatives.
While Aspen recently committed to spending what is sure to be an eye-watering amount to bring in Danish consultants to help them with visitor education and improving visitor behavior, the TTB collaborated with local entities like the Telluride Ecology Commission, Mountain Village Green Team, Telluride Mountain Club and more to work on these very same things.
We at the tourism board couldn’t agree more that it is past time to revamp that 2005 agreement. Mountain Village, San Miguel County and Telluride and the tourism that drives our economy have all changed and it is necessary to map out a path going forward that, again, seeks to balance quality of life issues with an economy that works for us all.
Accordingly, we hope to engage with and take direction from government partners so that we can use our expertise to shape tourism in a way that benefits our community.
Some say they no longer recognize their town because of the sheer number of visitors, especially in the summer.
Others say that if visitor numbers dip, they will no longer be able to keep on employees in off-season or, even, remain in business.
We say that this shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. Tourism and the economy are not an on/off light switch; they are more like a dimmer.
The Telluride Tourism Board has the expertise, the data and the local partners to operate the “dimmer” — to manage the destination and promote sustainable tourism, minimizing impacts and educating both visitors and locals, while continuing to nurture our local economy and workers.
Let’s get to work.