The tourism stakeholder community in Durango gets it! They understand that the role of the typical Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), like Visit Durango’s, is evolving to fulfill a new role in communities across the world. DMOs are no longer meant to just develop clever taglines and churn out advertising campaigns. With the abundance of online information available to travelers, the information gathering process has shifted, as has the DMO’s means of delivering information to visitors. DMOs still advertise and market their destination, but now they also foster the entire visitor experience from beginning to end. It’s not just about bringing people to Durango, it’s about elevating the customer experience once they get here and communicating with that visitor after they leave. 

This November, Visit Durango recruited me from my previous role marketing San Francisco’s historic waterfront district, Fisherman’s Wharf. In addition to marketing Fisherman’s Wharf, one of my major duties was destination stewardship and developing strategies to “spread the love.” My goal was to bring in visitors and locals during the off-season, mainly winter. A public relations campaign helped shift the perception of the neighborhood as not just a visitor hot-spot, but also a fun place for locals to hang out. Through these means, tourism increased at the Wharf from 12.1 to 18.2 million visitors per year and redistributed the visitor spread to bring economic stability to the businesses of the district. 

Currently, the city of Durango and La Plata County see a healthy number of visitors for the size of our town, about 1.3 million annually. Based on hotel occupancy trends, it is clear that Durango has the highest need for visitation in the off-peak season, mainly spring and fall. The average year-round hotel occupancy rate for the last ten years is at a modest 60.4%. By devoting advertising dollars to lure visitor’s in the slower seasons, Visit Durango will provide an economically viable and sustainable solution for tourism to the area. Visitor-focused businesses, including hotels, restaurants, attractions, and retail, will no longer need to rely on the profit they make in summer to carry themselves through the rest of the year. 

In addition to traditional marketing channels, Visit Durango will also step into the destination management role by working more closely with community organizations, such as the Business Improvement District, the Chamber of Commerce, Local First, the Durango Creative District, the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance, and many more. 

One of the ultimate goals of tourism is to increase the quality of life for residents of a destination. When Visit Durango brings in visitors, it boosts economic impact. When the Durango area economy thrives, the resident experience also thrives. But it is a delicate balance. In addition to implementing strategies that avoid overcrowding, Visit Durango will also focus on environmental sustainability. We want visitors to hike our trails, explore our forests, and raft our rivers, as long as it is done so responsibly. One initiative for 2020 will be to create a Durango Leave No Trace pledge program.

Visit Durango’s new goal: quality over quantity. We welcome the visitor who not only stays in our hotels and spends money in our town but also has respect for our locals, our municipalities, and our environment. The visitors to Durango will not burden the area but will uplift it. The real measure of effective tourism is about the social and economic impact to the Durango area. We know tourism is doing its job when Main Street is bustling, the job market is healthy, affordable housing is on the rise, and the cultural fabric of Durango is invigorated.