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Vail to launch new plan to combine tourism with sustainability efforts

‘Destination Stewardship’ part of a growing resort trend

The town of Vail and partners including Vail Resorts, the U.S. Forest Service and the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District are looking into creating a plan that would include stewarship and sustainability as an essential part of the tourism economy.
Scott N. Miller/Daily file photo

Balancing economic development and quality of life can be difficult. A new town of Vail program will try to find that balance.

Vail officials are working on a new plan, Destination Stewardship, with the intent of enhancing the town’s economy while preserving the natural resources on which that economy depends.

The plan is part of a requirement to maintain the town’s status from Green Destinations as a Top 100 Sustainable Destination. The plan is also required for continued recognition by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. That recognition first came in 2018.



The plan, which could be in place by the end of 2022, will include resident input as well as work with partners including Vail Resorts, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the U.S. Forest Service.

The resident input is new. In a Aug. 3 presentation to the Vail Town Council, Mia Vlaar, the town’s economic development coordinator, said reaching out to residents for opinions on tourism is something that hasn’t been done before now.

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“Destination marketing” is a traditional idea, built to bring guests to resorts. That idea is being supplanted with “destination management,” which includes a healthy dose of sustainability.

This isn’t new

The idea isn’t new. In fact, Vail Town Council member Kim Langmaid said the town and its partners have been working on destination sustainability and stewardship efforts for nearly a decade.

The Actively Green program was launched in 2013, in the runup to the FIS 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships.

More was done as Vail sought its sustainable destination designation, which came in 2017.

Bundles of recyclable materials are stacked on top of one another at the Eagle County Materials Recovery Facility in Wolcott, waiting for a business to purchase and recycle them.
Kelli Duncan/kduncan@vaildaily.com

Other resorts around the nation have worked over the past several years on managing crowds that threatened to overwhelm sensitive areas.

Those efforts have grown this year.

Tom Foley is senior vice president of business process and analytics for Inntopia, a tourism research firm. Inntopia includes DestiMetrics, which tracks lodging occupancy and revenue across the mountain west.

Foley said sustainability education messaging has gone up “dramatically” just this year.

While many mountain resorts were swamped in summer 2020 with city- and pandemic-escaping city residents, Foley said many in the industry believed that surge would be a one-time thing. But this summer has been just as busy, if not more so. And many of those visitors are new to the mountains, and may not be aware of proper trail and backcountry etiquette.

In the face of that surge, Foley said many resort residents’ voices are growing louder about finding ways to let locals enjoy their backyards.

That’s led to changes in marketing messaging, which now includes a lot more information about environmental stewardship.

‘Don’t be a (Bleep)hole’

If you think Vail is close to a big city, the folks in Mammoth Lakes, California, would like a word.

John Urdi, executive director of Mammoth Lakes Tourism, noted 38 million people live within a six-hour drive of the resort. The tourism bureau has spent a lot of money on a series of videos encouraging people to “hug” the resort by observing Leave No Trace rules. But a $6,000 song got people fired up.

The song, “Don’t be a (Bleephole),” tells people they’re welcome, unless they act like jerks.

“Don’t be a (jerk) and we’ll all get along just fine,” the song concludes.

Urdi said that campaign was quickly pulled due to an uproar from locals — many of whom had been loudly complaining about bad behavior in the backcountry and elsewhere.

The song could apply to just about any resort in a nice place.

“The funny thing is that in most destinations, people think (these problems) are unique to them,” Urdi said, adding he’s heard a lot of positive feedback from the “Don’t be a (Bleephole)” campaign.

“People have said, ‘I wish we had the (courage) to do it,’” Urdi said.

The song campaign resonated because it takes a more flinty-edged approach to a perhaps too-familiar message, Urdi said. After a while, nice messages just become background noise, he added.

Langmaid said the industry-wide shift toward sustainability and stewardship education is long overdue.

“This is so, so important,” she said, adding that the increasingly popular idea of sustainability and stewardship education is essential to ensure that business and beauty can coexist in the years to come.

Langmaid added that if the town puts a marketing tax proposal on the ballot this fall, and voters approve it, much of the projected $5 million annual collection will go toward building more sustainability and stewardship into tourism promotion.

The goals

Economic development that balances resource impact and economic prosperity.

Quality of life for residents and guests.

Environmental and ecological sustainability.

Cultural heritage.

World class recreation opportunity.


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