Friday, September 21, 2018
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What if?

What if it never snows? What will draw people here then? Just kidding. But in that vein, what can we do to deepen and expand the attractions and amenities we have? Even in the best of years, people these days want more to do than just hit the slopes in the winter and tackle the trails in the summer.
What if we take 2012 and start thinking boldly? What if in our collective decisions, we purposefully choose to move in original directions? Whether it is affordable housing, snowbanks, the airport or tourism marketing funding, let’s try something new. It doesn’t have to be a radical change in thinking, but smarter thinking.

For example: Marketing the area through the Tourism Association. What if we take money we already have that is funneled through the county commissioners to the TA and spend it with more focus? Spend it so that folks at both ends of the valley feel they are getting a fair shake and even help tie the north and south ends together. I think it is possible with a shift in attitude.

Here’s how we can do it. Use the million bucks a year to focus like a laser on promoting the cultural lifestyle attractions of the valley. Promote the area’s art and education opportunities. Lifestyle is more than extreme skiing and more than cowboys and certainly more than the ice fishing that I see the TA advertise in what I can only guess is a politically correct move to try to appease everyone. It’s not like the TA doesn’t do some lifestyle promotion currently, but change the mission so that is all it does.
The lifestyle is the pace and the place. It is the people and the opportunities and the warm feeling of the valley. The lifestyle includes the music, the community, the theater. It is the access to not only nearby wilderness areas or Blue Mesa, but places like Western State College and RMBL. The lifestyle is not only a quick hike into Paradise Divide but also a chat with friends at Alpenglow, a stop at the galleries, the chance to catch a lecture, or yoga in Gunnison and Crested Butte.
The outdoors is our primary attraction. It is what we are known for and it is what attracts people here now. What if we shift most of our communal marketing money to promote our arts and smarts instead of our brawn? To over time, give deeper meaning to the “brand” or whatever term the marketing people want to use. What if we take one huge prong of our communal marketing dollars and focus on the softer attributes of the valley? CBMR can market winter skiing and summer mountain biking. Set aside a percentage of the Tourism Association money for marketing rafting and fishing around Gunnison if need be. Then take a million dollars and let the TA concentrate on marketing the arts and educational opportunities at both ends of the valley.
Let it work in harmony to complement all the other marketing coming out of the area. It will draw more and different people here and remind those who come for physical activities that there are other options to fill out their visit.

It’s a million-dollar idea that would take some courage and change in direction but in the long run could be golden. How that money is currently spent is such a political hot potato at times that when the TA recently partnered with the primary winter driver in the valley, CBMR, the issue of trust overshadowed a good idea to such an extent that the money was almost sent back to the bank, where it benefits no one.
Art and education. Lifestyle. Both the north and south ends of the valley have wonderful artists and educational facilities. These groups already seem to understand that working together can benefit the whole. What if the TA gets that word out?

When people in Denver think of CBMR they should think not just of “Extreme Skiing” or 401 but also great music, a new or expanded performing arts center and a dozen galleries. When people in Houston think of Gunnison it shouldn’t just be a vision of Cattlemen’s Days, but it should include Western State College, music on warm summer evenings in the park and Western’s developing program on health and wellness at altitude. People appreciate and are drawn to variety.
After a while, it will feed on itself. There will be more art and more opportunities. There will be more things to do. That polishes and expands the all-important product.
Speaking of product improvement—the idea being floated around about having a universal ticketing opportunity for visitors is a good step up. Having one place a person can buy a ticket for any event makes life easier for those visiting. And that’s a good thing. Heck, go even further and sell an arts and education pass. One punch or swipe gets you into any lecture or class. Two punches might get you into a Music Festival performance. Three is the opera or a play.
Expanding and developing a deeper attraction and choice of arts and education on top of the outdoors with the help of communal funds could actually make us a better destination to visit and ultimately, a more interesting place to live.
What if we try something bold? This is just one idea. The ice fishing industry might take a hit but…

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