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Local Towns Focus on Sustainable Tourism and Stewardship as Visitor Numbers Increase

Kayaker on the San Juan River in downtown Pagosa Springs.
Pagosa Springs Area Tourism Office
Kayaker on the San Juan River in downtown Pagosa Springs.

Pagosa Springs' Main Street and Durango's Main Avenue are seeing an influx of visitors this summer, and tourism leaders throughout the region are noticing. KSUT’s Sarah Flower has this report.


Sarah Flower 00:00
In recent years, the town of Pagosa Springs has switched their marketing talking points about being a remote, lush outdoor playground with a hot springs, to fire and river safety and educating their visitors on all things outdoors. Jenny Green is the Executive Director of Pagosa Springs Area Tourism Office. She says the summers have been so busy in Pagosa, that her team stopped marketing for those months, almost nine years ago.

Jenny Green 00:28
The shift has been, it was you know, really focusing on shoulder season visitation trying to minimize the peaks and valleys that mountain destinations have with visitation. Trying to create that year round tourism economy. As much as we have succeeded in that, the summer months continue to escalate. So there's still the peaks and valleys. The valleys are not as deep as what they were, our numbers obviously increased. So our focus is shifted to working on signage for the community, which includes trail signs, wayfinding - actually, if there's a sign out there, they've probably tasked my department with creating it.

Sarah Flower 01:04
There was a brief moment of uncertainty last year with the pandemic where Green felt they should start advertising again, but quickly realized the town didn't need it.

Jenny Green 01:15
We attempted to start from last summer not knowing what the impact of the COVID situation was going to be. Almost like within a week of maybe turning on some advertising, we stopped it again because they're coming regardless whether or not we invite them or not.

Sarah Flower 01:29
According to Green, 80% of short term rentals are now contributing to lodging tax where perhaps in years past, they weren't. Green says she doesn't want to have a knee jerk reaction to over tourism until she sees several clean months of post-COVID closures by looking at the collections from short term rentals. However, the figures she does have are pretty remarkable.

Jenny Green 01:52
The first five months of 2021 are up 109% in Pagosa, compared to the first five months of 2020. Now, there were obviously COVID closures in 2020. But Pagosa actually ended up the year 15% up over 2019 in lodging tax, so really when people started traveling last May or June, that's when we started seeing like, okay, people are here. There's not much we can do about it,

Sarah Flower 02:27
Rachel Welsh is the Public Relations and Communication Manager with Visit Durango. She says her team has been focusing on sustainable tourism and stewardship for the region in hopes to not grow too big, like some other mountain towns.

Rachel Welsh 02:41
We don't want to turn into Aspen, we don't want to turn into Moab. Making sure that Durango maintains the character that it has, and just focusing on sustainable tourism. Summer is just very busy here as you can see now, but November through April, we kind of see the numbers drop. So we want to keep our stakeholders and businesses and community members vital and so we're going to focus on bringing people during those times.

Sarah Flower 03:04
For Green, as busy as the town of Pagosa Springs has been in recent summers, she does feel that tourism in the region will level off as other destinations open their doors.

Jenny Green 03:16
I do think eventually as the supply opens up, our demand here locally will will go down to perhaps more normal numbers. Now it is still July, so July is going to be busy. There are plenty of people in Pagosa saying, okay, we've been discovered. I hesitate to think that that's completely true. I think given the current situation, yes, we've been discovered, because it's desirable. It may not happen until next year, or the year after. But I do think eventually it will stabilize.

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