As destination marketing operators around the state are reeling from what’s been described as mischaracterized media reports that the Colorado Tourism Office is telling potential visitors to stay away amid the COVID-19 crisis, agencies like the Aspen Chamber Resort Association are ready to hit the “go” button when public health orders allow tourist accommodations to open in the next few days.
Media outlets last week reported that the state’s tourism office four-phase “Wait, Ready, Set, Go” marketing plan effectively told people not to come to Colorado during the waiting stage.
That set off panic among local lodging companies and businesses, believing that dollars were being put toward “stay away” messages.
That’s not the case, according to a May 14 letter from Cathy Ritter, the director of the Colorado Tourism Office, who explained to industry partners in the state that media reports sensationalized the plan into falsehood.
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“Right now, there’s no question our state is in Wait mode,” the letter reads. “The #WaitingtoCO campaign is a short-term grassroots plan aimed at inspiring travelers to keep dreaming of Colorado until we can actively promote.
“Many destinations are sharing this same message in a mournful way. We’ve chosen to do it in a fun way — with no paid media to save our dollars for when it matters.”
Ritter’s letter to the Colorado Tourism Board didn’t reverberate within the local business sector for at least a few days.
“It alarmed a lot of people,” said Eliza Voss, ACRA’s director of marketing. “There was definitely a concern from our lodging partners but once people saw the clarification from Cathy Ritter they felt more calm about it.”
ACRA’s destination marketing plan mirrors the state’s in many ways, particularly during the holding pattern the Aspen resort economy is in due to Pitkin County’s public health order that has restaurants, bars, lodges and hotels closed until Wednesday. Gatherings are currently limited to 10 people or fewer but likely will move to 50 next week.
“Ours is keeping the dream alive,” Voss said of ACRA’s initial marketing plan that is designed to elicit images of vacationing here.
As soon as public health orders allow, ACRA is ready to move on its $500,000 “Sustain Interest, Engage Community & Recover” plan.
“Once we are open we’ll pay for ads and we will be marketing to regional drive markets,” Voss said, adding that second homeowners, even sans the Aspen Music Festival and big summer events, are welcome here with open arms. “We’ve heard the faculty from the (Music Associates of Aspen) are still coming because it’s just a great place to be, so it’s almost planning the unplanned summer … like a childhood summer where the day will take you outside.”
That could be a virtual concert on the computer from the house patio, or for those who will drive here to take advantage of outdoor recreation in one of the most beautiful mountain communities in the world.
“The outdoors is definitely the appeal this summer, but we want to welcome the second homeowners back when they are ready to be here,” Voss said. “We want the community to feel safe when we reopen and embrace the mind, body, spirit” ethos of Aspen.
ACRA’s “7,908 ways to spend local” marketing campaign will target second homeowners and overnight guests on how to shop, eat and play in town.
Advertising dollars initially will be spent in Utah and Colorado to entice those drive markets. However, because the COVID-19 situation is fluid, ACRA will rely heavily on social media buys, which have targeted audiences and are strong on imagery, Voss said.
The chamber will continue to push its sustainability messaging, asking visitors to take the Aspen Pledge, which is a commitment to tread lightly on the environment.
Voss said there’s a hunger among Americans to travel this summer, noting that when Hilton Head, South Carolina, opened its economy, it saw a surge in visitation in the community they were not expecting.
Ritter’s office expects tourism to be steady and hopes for growth, which depends on public health orders.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is expected to make decisions on the next public health order by Monday.
The Pitkin County Board of Public Health has signaled that it will align with the state’s public health orders in the future.
“As more restrictions lift and more of the tourism economy reopens, we are ready to pounce on opportunities to promote,” Ritter wrote to industry partners. “Each of the next three phases of our plan involves active promotion — first to in-state travelers, then to drive markets and then to our high-potential national audiences. It is absolutely critical to be ready to go to market as these opportunities unfold because the competition for travelers will be fierce. It’s important for you to be ready, too.”