Vail conference panel discusses times when destinations become too popular
November 2, 2018
VAIL — Tourism is all about numbers. More visitors equal more economic success. But only to a point.
During the Colorado Governor's Tourism Conference at Vail's Hotel Talisa this past week, one of the panel discussions focused on "when tourism becomes too successful."
It can be hard to determine when success turns to too much, but the panel at the Tuesday, Oct. 30, discussion generally agreed that residents tend to know when enough is enough.
Arnie Weissmann, editor in chief of Travel Weekly, said he once herd a town's mayor quip, "A good place to live is a good place to visit."
Sometimes understanding the needs of residents isn't enough.
Charlene Chan, director of communications for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said the dwindling number of independent hotels on the islands makes it hard to spread the too-much message.
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"Operators understand residents need to be happy, but money is more important," Chan said.
William Bakker, of Destination Think!, a destination marketing firm, said he believes the resident/visitor divide is often a challenge in communications.
Still, he said, when small community businesses disappear, that's often an indication of deeper problems.
'Do not promote'
The over-popularity of attractions in Hawaii has led tourism officials there to create a "do not promote" list. That list is widely ignored, Chan said. The state has also tried an education campaign for "responsible tourism." But, Chan said, people want to go off the beaten path. So far this year, there have been more than 15 fatal drowning incidents involving visitors.
Working to educate visitors can be tricky business, but it can work.
Weissmann noted that Buenos Aries, Argentina, doesn't have too many visitors overall, but certain streets and attractions are overcrowded, depending on the time of day or time of year. That city's tourism agency uses real-time technology to contact visitors with suggestions to avoid those crowded spots.
That's an example of destination management in an area that's still seeking more visitors, Weissmann said.
The Cinque Terre region of Italy has had to implement serious restrictions on visitors.
Weissmann said that region used to see as many as 5 million visitors per summer. Visitor numbers are now limited to 1 million, with a special visa, he said.
Managing with technology
Colorado is working to roll out its own forms of destination management.
Colorado Tourism Office Director Cathy Ritter noted that Crested Butte has put together an app that has maps of 475 miles of trails around that town.
"Mountain bikers have dispersed instead of going to the two or three trails everybody knew about," Ritter said. "Technology pointed bikers to trails they'd never used."
During Gov. John Hickenlooper's presentation to the conference, he noted that Colorado Parks and Wildlife has mapped every trail in Colorado — 38,000 miles worth — as a way to disperse visitors.
Lara Carlson, of Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon, was at that presentation, along with Walking Mountains founder Kim Langmaid. Carlson said Langmaid used the app for Vail — her hometown — and Marble, where she has a cabin. In both cases, the app's first recommendations were heavily used trails.
In this part of Colorado, heavy trail use has prompted the U.S. Forest Service to either limit daily use or examine the prospects.
The Hanging Lake trail in Glenwood Canyon will be limited to about 600 visitors per day next summer. A similar system is being eyed for Vail's trail to Booth Creek Falls.
Vail Mayor Dave Chapin, who wasn't on the panel, but who attended the discussion, told the group that Vail has had to become a partner with the Forest Service in working to ease over-use of trails. Volunteers work to talk to people using Vail's North Trail system when it's closed in the spring. And the town recently funded a "Front Country" ranger program for areas around town.
Chapin said that's one way the town can impress federal officials of the urgency of over-use of popular areas.
After the session, Chapin noted there are a number of places in the world that are "suffering" because of over-visitation. Vail and the surrounding area need to take steps to keep that from happening here.
"We don't want to limit access, but we're at the breaking point on some of these heavily visited areas," he said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-748-2930.