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Tourism’s economic impact sans extra visitors

2020 has not been the best year for tourism. With stay-at-home orders, quarantines and public officials urging citizens to stay-put, tourism numbers have plummeted across the globe.

Durango has been faring better than most destinations. Our outdoor recreation opportunities, remote location and mandatory mask order have made us an appealing stop for road trippers. La Plata County’s visitation has been healthy, but many hospitality businesses have still felt the negative impact. Accommodations and restaurants have struggled to stay viable with strict capacity and cleanliness restrictions in place.

While in the average year Visit Durango would be promoting off-peak visitation ads across the country, right now is not the time to be opening the flood gates of visitation. So, how does a Destination Management and Marketing Organization, like Visit Durango, adapt and pivot, while still fulfilling our mission to drive economic impact? Visit Durango’s creative solution: instead of asking more people to visit, ask those who are already visiting to stay longer. This win-win strategy is called the Extended Stay campaign and invites visitors to “Extend their Stay to Play an Extra Day.” From now through the end of February, select hotel partners are offering visitors a 15% discount if they decide to extend their stay.

Visit Durango’s marketing strategy for this campaign takes a unique approach. Flyers, rack cards and other printed collateral are displayed throughout participating hotels. The campaign lures in consumers with the message “Get More of Durango.” A single night or short weekend are not enough time to experience all the wonders of the La Plata County area. If out-of-towners extend their visit, they will have time to do the things they weren’t able to during their original stay. Maybe they didn’t have a chance to ride the train, take that hike a local recommended, or try a restaurant that got rave reviews. By extending their stay they get a discount on that extra hotel night, and they also get more time to experience Southwest Colorado’s adventure hub.

In addition to print collateral in hotels, Visit Durango is also using advanced e-targeting and data to advertise to people who are visiting right now, while they are physically in La Plata County. Our visitors receive ads across the internet on sites like Facebook, blogs and news outlets while in-market. This method provides an efficient use of resources, or more “bang for our buck.” By only serving ads to visitors in-market, we serve ads to the most relevant audiences. And with ads being geo-bound to La Plata County, consumers outside of that boundary will not see the ads before they cross into our county. This campaign doesn’t encourage new visitation, but increases the economic impact of the visitors who are already here.

This campaign works for several reasons. Because it does not actually increase the quantity of visitors who come to the area, there is minimal threat of new germs being introduced into our population. By encouraging these visitors to stay longer, we increase the economic impact without risking the safety of our residents. With visitors extending their stay the hotels win, the restaurant wins, and the local economy wins. Visit Durango’s mission is to increase overnight stays in the county, but this goal of economic impact should never be at the detriment of our locals’ quality of life. This campaign stays true to that philosophy.

Currently, the 15% discount is being offered by select hotels. Starting later this month, discounts will extend to the attractions, tours, restaurants and the retail industry. A visitor in-market considering staying longer will not just be drawn in by the discount on their lodging, but, also, the added bonus of discounts on the train, jeep tours, or dinner. You can check out the participating businesses and learn more at durango.org/extended-stay.

This campaign is an example of the tourism office’s new philosophy and commitment to responsible tourism. 2020 has proven to be a challenging year, but with the creativity of the local hospitality community we have been able to pivot. Adapting to these new conditions has proven there is no challenge Durango tourism can’t handle.

Rachel Brown is the executive director of Visit Durango. She can be reached at 261-1052 or rachel@durango.org.