The July BrandingWire challenge is a destination – Estes Park, Colorado. Our collaborative suggestions for optimizing this town’s brand will be active on this blog on July 9th. However, this post will serve as a “Backgrounder” on the town, which we have used in our research and deliberations. You may also find it useful, to provide context for our branding ideas!
Backgrounder for Estes Park, Colorado
Estes Park has been a tourist attraction for over 100-years, even before the founding of Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes borders the RMNP and has used the slogan, “Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park” for some fifty years at least.
It is nestled in a high-mountain valley with spectacular mountain vistas. The area teems with wildlife (deer and elk saunter through the town’s side streets summer and winter). As a tourist town, Estes has acquired a cadre of attractions other than the outdoor hiking, fishing, horseback riding and sightseeing. There are go-carts, an aerial tramway, hayrides and other family-oriented activities.
The town itself is small with two streets running its length. In summer they can be extremely congested. This can’t be fixed because of the cliffs arising on either side. The streets are lined with merchants selling anything from cotton candy and salt-water taffy to fine leather goods and original paintings. This merchant group, approximately 250 of them, and the restaurants and accommodations provide the vast majority of the town’s tax base. The remainder comes from grocery stores, lumber yards, and other typical support businesses. There is very little industry.
Unlike many Colorado resorts, Estes Park is and always has been a summer destination. Trail Ridge Road through RMNP closes in October and doesn’t open again until May. Thus without a downhill ski facility close at hand, winter activities are confined to snow shoeing and cross country skiing. Many of the shops close or only open on weekends.
However, Estes has tried to extend their season, both fall and spring, with a variety of attractions and events. These are mostly pointed to day visitors from the “Front Range” (Front range is a term meaning cities from Ft. Collins to the north to Colorado Springs to the south. This is where the bulk of Colorado’s residents live – about three-million).
The town and environs have been attracting new residents, mostly retired people for several decades. Over 54% of the area population is over 50. Most of these folks wish to limit growth and commerce now that they’ve established residences there. A vibrant economy is not their top concern. There are also professionals, consultants and “creatives” opting to live here – and it should be noted that without the sales tax from tourism, their property taxes would skyrocket.
Almost 55% of the permanent adult population are college graduates. Because of transportation costs mostly, everyday consumables are relatively high priced. Thus, permanent residents will travel to the front range towns to shop at WalMart and Target and Home Depot, etc. They also buy groceries and gasoline on these frequent (average once a week) trips. The cost of homes and land prices have accelerated greatly over the past ten years. Used homes and newly constructed condos will begin about $350,000.
The town itself operates the Convention and Visitors Center and funds a promotional budget of around $1,000,000 a year. The town is solely responsible for its brand and its marketing.
A Convention & Visitors Bureau is responsible for overseeing tourism development programs including Special Events, Communications, Group Sales, Visitors Services, Film Commission, and facilities including Conference Center, Stanley Park Fairgrounds, Visitors Center.
Estes Park is unique in that it is closer to the front range – just 73 miles from Denver – than the resorts that were built for ski business. It must be passed through to enter RMNP from the east. It is very convenient to some of Colorado’s fastest growing areas – Ft. Collins, Loveland, Longmont. It does not have an airfield, however.
Estes Park prides itself on being a family vacation center. It is a friendly place, and generally less expensive than the ski-oriented resorts.
Estes Park has a horse-show tradition. Their Stanley Grounds is the site of almost-weekly summer horse shows as well as the “Rooftop Rodeo” in July. There are also Irish and Scottish weekends with traditional games, costumes and cuisine. Most recently a musical venue has been established where free concepts are performed three or four nights a week. A calendar of 2007 summer events can be found at http://estesparkcvb.com/calendar.cfm
Estes Park attracts four types of visitors: Day trippers, touring vacationers, conventioneers and destination vacationers.
Day trippers come from the Front Range. They are not usually “big spenders”, but may have favorite niche shops they frequent when they come. Many come for the outdoor activities, hiking, fishing, etc. If these Colorado residents host relatives and friends from out-of-state, hosting a trip to Estes may be mandatory for them. They may not contribute a lot to the tax base but they are a great source of referrals.
Touring vacationers travel as nomads by driving from one spot to another. They may or may not tote trailers or live in recreational vehicles. Usually they will spend a day, perhaps two, in Estes Park and then head for the next destination on their itinerary. They use camp sites and convenience stores and may fill up with gas. They may buy postcards and a tee-shirt but don’t contribute significantly to other segments of the economy.
Conventioneers account for the smallest segment today, but this may change. Conventioneers do spend money in the restaurants and accommodations, and they tend to purchase higher quality gifts. The town, through an active convention sales and promotional campaign is attracting more conventions and association meetings. A sub-section of this segment are horse owners participating in summer horse shows as well as those attracted to certain ethnic gatherings (Scottish games and the like), special musical performances and festivals (fall color tours).
Destination vacationers are usually families that come to Estes for several days, averaging six. They will take in the many attractions – concerts, horse shows, etc., stay at one accommodation during their time there, eat out, buy gifts and souvenirs, and generally contribute more per capita to the tax base than the other segments.
The town wants to increase the tax base to enhance the lives of all residents. Tourism is the major vehicle for this endeavor. However, it must balance tourism with the desires and needs of its residents.