The Colorado Tourism
Created as a strategic plan not just for the Colorado Tourism Office, but for the Colorado tourism industry, the Colorado Tourism Roadmap defined a mission, vision and four strategic pillars to build a competitive edge for the state’s signature industry. Adopted in early 2017, the plan was among the first nationally to step away from driving increased visitation, creating a new focus on generating traveler spending statewide.
The Roadmap drew deep inspiration from a series of listening sessions with tourism and outdoor recreation stakeholders, public lands managers, elected officials and residents. That face-to-face engagement with more than 1,000 Coloradans surfaced a set of brand-new priorities, ultimately spelled out in a three- to five-year action plan and steadily implemented. While the Roadmap’s Compete Pillar outlined strategies for the CTO’s core mission of attracting targeted visitors, the other three Pillars — Create, Steward and Advocate — collectively redefined the office’s role as a destination manager.
Produced in a highly readable 28-page format, the Roadmap was widely distributed, read and internalized by tourism partners across the state. Progress against the action plan was reported regularly to the Colorado Tourism Board in the Roadmap Tracker and shared with statewide partners annually in a video highlighting the latest outcomes.
“When our state agency began the strategic review process, the Colorado Tourism Roadmap was one of our first stops in gathering information on what resonated in the tourism industry. Their top-notch plan is a leader in the industry.” – Keiko Orrall, Executive Director, Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism
The “Are You Colo-Ready?”
Destination Stewardship Plan
Initially framed as part of the Colorado Tourism Roadmap, ultimately the STEWARD Pillar laid the foundation for one of the first statewide destination stewardship plans in the U.S. The Pillar’s three objectives spelled out plans to disperse visitors in productive ways, invite travelers to embrace Colorado ethics while visiting and create alliances to magnify the impact of the state’s responsible tourism initiatives.
To develop a powerful shared message for travelers, Cathy Ritter reached out to the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics in spring 2017 to establish a first-of-its-kind collaboration. The partnership resulted in creation of the well-known Care for Colorado initiative, with messaging shared in videos, brochures, downloadable posters and social messaging.
In recent years, efforts have focused on building out the Care for Colorado Coalition, with more than 30 organizations (including the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association, the Colorado Association of Ski Towns and many more) poised to share stewardship messaging with their audiences each month without a dime of paid media.
“Cathy Ritter has been on the forefront of identifying and understanding the need for sustainable recreation practices as paramount to the future of the tourism industry. Cathy has a keen understanding of the intersection between tourism, outdoor recreation, public lands and sustainable stewardship – one of the key reasons we united to form our critical partnership. Together we created a national, ground-breaking model with CTO maximizing its powerful communications platform to share the Leave No Trace message.” – Dana Watts, Executive Director, Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics
Colorado Tourism Inclusivity in Travel Advisory Group
Addressing concerns about systemic injustice and inequity, Cathy Ritter in 2020 invited about 30 diverse leaders to serve on the Colorado Tourism Inclusivity in Travel Advisory Group. This group was charged with developing an honest report of the opportunities and challenges for increasing the diversity of Colorado’s traveler profile and creating a warmer welcome for all travelers.
With expert guidance from a facilitator skilled in diversity, equity and inclusion, the group outlined a multi-pronged approach to breaking down barriers. Acting on the recommendations, Cathy set in motion the first statewide pilot for tech startup Inclusive Journeys’ “virtual Green Book,” providing crowd-sourced reviews of businesses’ practices around inclusivity. She also led creation of an innovative new diversity offering for the CTO’s paid media co-op program, allowing tourism partners to target advertising to Black, Latinx and Asian travelers as well as LGBTQ communities and people with disabilties.
She also initiated development of a new module for the office’s Colorado Concierge workforce training platform, aimed at guiding frontline workers to show sensitivity in interactions with people of different backgrounds. Several other initiatives from the report were set in motion as well.
“Cathy’s forward thinking and focused mindset turned general talk around the work of inclusivity in travel into authentic action. Because of her incredible ability to build and foster relationships with people of all backgrounds, Cathy brought the right people into the room and quickly built coalition around necessary work that will see ripple effects throughout the travel industry for years to come. Her approach provided the necessary balance in providing simultaneous space for deeply personal and authentic conversations that incorporated feedback loops, while moving forward key deliverables in a timely manner.” – Laura Valdez, Co-Executive Director, Fort Collins (CO) Museum of Discovery
Colorado Backcountry Winter Safety Awareness Campaign
Last winter, faced with a surge of travelers into Colorado’s backcountry and limitations on promotion, Cathy Ritter built a coalition of state agencies and outdoor recreation interests in fielding a season-long Colorado Backcountry Winter Safety Awareness campaign. Among the positive outcomes was a finding that no backcountry novices — the target of the campaign — perished in a treacherous year for avalanche.
Central to the campaign was a Backcountry Winter Safety microsite that included a safety pledge, a list of online and in-person safety classes, alerts to danger areas, safety guidance for specific sports and a way to donate to Colorado Search and Rescue operations. The four-month campaign included a :30 video, digital and social messaging and outperformed campaign benchmarks.
“The Colorado Backcountry Winter Safety Campaign for the winter of 20/21 was pure and simple a lifesaver and the realization of a new way of thinking about the Colorado outdoor recreation economy. This collaborative campaign, spearheaded by Cathy Ritter, rallied a large and diverse coalition of the outdoor recreation industry around two goals: proactive public outdoor recreation education and protecting the Colorado backcountry search and rescue resources. While Colorado experienced a record-tying year for avalanche deaths, none were from the demographics targeted by the coalition. The obvious success of this approach is now continuing and will likely become a standard of responsible tourism.” – Jeff Sparhawk, President, Colorado Search and Rescue Association
Colorado Concierge Workforce Training Platform
Among the most consistent themes heard in preparing the Colorado Tourism Roadmap was a call for a statewide training program to turn frontline workers into Colorado experts and train them in Colorado-style hospitality.
Kicking off the process in early 2018, Cathy Ritter convened about 30 top industry leaders from hotels, restaurants, ski, outdoor recreation, casino, attractions and other sectors into a Colorado Hospitality Advisory Group. She also commissioned a Longwoods International study finding that, far from a desire to be treated like VIPs, Colorado travelers most craved feeling that someone cared about their experience and being accepted for who they were.
Those findings and the group’s recommendations shaped the launch later that year of the Colorado Concierge online training platform, positioned as a free resource for any Colorado business. With content developed in partnership with such organizations as Johnson & Wales University, Leave No Trace and UC Health, the platform offers modules in general Colorado knowledge and customer service as well as traveler safety and Care for Colorado.
“When tourism stakeholders called for professional hospitality training, Cathy Ritter responded by assembling a team of expert voices. So many of the ideas raised in that forum, which I was invited to chair, ultimately shaped the Colorado Concierge online platform. It’s been wonderful to see how the CTO kept building it out and took steps to engage even more business owners and frontline workers to use it.” – Sonia Riggs, President & CEO, Colorado Restaurant Association