Elizabeth Milias: Aspen Council: Tourists, go home!


The Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA) recently presented its five-year destination management plan to city council and, in short, it fell flat. The 36-page document is aggressive, compiled with a consultant to “coordinate the management of all aspects of a destination that contribute to a visitor’s experience, taking into account the perspectives and expectations of local residents, visitors , companies in industry, environment and local government. .” The problem wasn’t so much the plan itself; I am told that all popular tourist destinations do this. The problem is that the ACRA bit off way more than she could chew.

You may wonder, as I did, why the Aspen Chamber tries to take on such Herculean duties when many of those roles actually belong to the city. Clearly, the city has abandoned its responsibilities in favor of playing subsidized housing developer, enacting moratoriums, considering new uses for the Armory, debating Aspen’s entry, and saving the planet from climate change. Hence, ACRA, a hybrid organization that serves as a chamber of commerce as well as a destination marketing organization that serves to support Aspen’s business community, attract visitors to the resort, and enhance the visitor experience , attempted to bring all the cats together into one ambitious plan.

With no public policy-making authority, ACRA’s well-meaning solutions to the problems our local government is neglecting have not been particularly well received. But the council embraced the plan’s overall goal: While tourism is the most important economic driver for Aspen and its surrounding communities, the plan is not about tourism. It is primarily about local residents and protecting their quality of life from the onslaught and effects of tourism. Locals first, baby.

Raising awareness about how Aspen can survive its reputation economically, socially, ecologically and existentially has revealed ugly and alarming truths about who we have become as a community. Tourists are a nuisance. Residents don’t like the “touristy nature” of Aspen. Tourism contributes to the loss of the small town character. Some visitors don’t respect Aspen. First-time visitors are less considerate and have higher expectations. The off-seasons are getting shorter. ACRA must develop “responsible tourism”. The city is too busy, there is too much traffic and more and more full-time residents are stressing our infrastructure. We need to educate our tourists. There are too many social inequalities. You get the picture. This approach politically panders to embittered local audiences while creepily biting the hand that feeds us.

In advocating for values-based community efforts to address traffic, the environment, parking, and even housing, ACRA hoped for collaboration with the council around a common vision, but the council gave ACRA a blow for highlighting his continued failures in each of these areas. Moreover, the board has no vision.

The council then flaunted its irrational views on tourism and added its personal desires to what it oddly treated as ACRA’s “to do” list. Ward Hauenstein said “we need a sustainable community more than tourists”, saying “we are over-visited at this point”. He wants ‘congestion pricing’ and agrees with John Doyle that we need ‘climate action’ immediately. Torre wants to “support employees” and Skippy Mesirow wants “more money for workforce housing” reflected in our tourism policies. This is typical of our board ignoring business; when they react to something they don’t like, they use the stick (or the axe) to stop it in its tracks, rather than recognizing its importance and finding a way to lessen the impacts.

Meanwhile, Rachel Richards weighed in with rare wisdom: “ACRA needs to step in and start taking the side of the workers. She’s right, it is.

Chamber member companies are seriously affected by our labor and housing shortages. ACRA can and should be vocal in its support of local businesses through tireless advocacy for workforce housing, especially seasonal rentals, sizing and effective management of our fleet of accommodations. It’s time to join the growing list of rational local voices in demanding an independent APCHA audit and formal housing needs assessment before building hundreds of three-bedroom condos for sale in the Lumberyard for middle-class families. . ACRA’s powerful voice would have a huge impact on the conversation. It is the fruit at hand. This is also the role of a chamber.

When it comes to destination management, we can indeed be a victim of our own success, and it’s a good first step to stop marketing Aspen in the off-season. But if we really are “overfilled”, maybe it’s time to turn off the tap by removing the 2% accommodation tax, 75% of which goes to tourism promotion. In the meantime, the plan will focus on niche, diverse and multicultural markets through value-based targeting and “passion-graphy” that will attract travelers who “positively impact locals”. That, and scolding our visitors until they learn our model behavior. (Have we lost our collective spirit?)

Companies are encouraged to join ACRA in order to offer their employees a discounted ski pass. The chamber also produces iconic special events and provides vital visitor services. Attempting to reconcile the differing expectations of local residents, visitors, industrial businesses, the environment and local government in Aspen is a simple recipe for becoming the council’s scapegoat for their growing list of public policy failures. This is not the role of such a respected civic body.

Are we incredibly lucky to live in a world-class tourist destination, or do we live in a community that we allow people to visit when it suits us? Contact TheRedAntEM@comcast.net.


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