A Valentine to Colorado

Dazzling beauty and a friendly personality. Lots of fun with a fascinating past. A way of lifting your heart and making you feel like you can be more than you ever thought. That’s no Valentine’s Day personal ad, that’s Colorado. It’s no wonder our state inspires such heartfelt emotion.

Our governor calls it “topophilia,” a blend of two Latin words that means love of place. Our former Colorado Poet Laureate David Mason gets to the heart of it in his extraordinary “Love Letter to Colorado,” providing a deeply moving message for our Matador Network video, which already has inspired 1.2 million-plus views.

But there’s a protective side, even a shadow side to this passion. While most commentators on our “Love Letter” second that emotion or share a desire to visit or come back, there’s some who make it clear they’d rather everyone else just stayed away.

A deep and abiding love for Colorado lies at the heart of so much of the sentiment against growth, for anything that attracts more people to our state. We in tourism and other growth enterprises ignore this very real feeling at our peril. But this profound love of place also points the way to addressing the concern — by inspiring others to share our passion.

That is the true purpose of the alliance that the Colorado Tourism Office has forged with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. It’s to inspire those who travel in our state — whether they already live here or come from some other place — to honor the regard we have for our state and show it in ways that matter.

We’re almost ready to share our Colorado take on the iconic Leave No Trace Seven Principles. We want it to sound like us — non-judgy, braggy only in a humble way, but intent. Kind of like the dad who’s joking with the guy who’s taking out his teenage daughter. Yeah, he’s getting the message across in an amusing way, but don’t think he doesn’t mean it.

We’ve also been teaming up with Leave No Trace to create new alliances with key industry sectors to touch even more travelers. So far, conversations are under way with the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association, the Colorado River Outfitters Association and the Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association. Even more conversations are in early stages.

We all share a belief that responsible tourism is not an anti-growth message. Rather, it’s a sincere effort to address anti-growth sentiment head-on with a solution that creates wins for visitors and for our state. By encouraging our visitors to reduce their impacts, protect our resources and even contribute to the causes we care about, we’re turning our 82 million-plus visitors into a powerful force for even more good.

We in tourism have long been aware that the visitors we attract leave valuable benefits in their wake. Doug Price, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, says it so well in a video encouraging local residents’ involvement in a new strategic planning process:

“If you build a place where people want to visit, you’ll build a place where people want to live,” he says. “And, if you build a place where people want to live, you’ll build a place where people need to work. If you build a place where people need to work, you’ll build a place where business wants to be.

“See, we’re not just competing for visitors anymore. We’re also competing for talent, investment and business; and coordinated destination promotion is critical in driving each of these.”

Chris Romer, president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, believes environmental sustainability is not only compatible with growth, but is in fact an essential ingredient for both economic and social sustainability.

To thrive, he points out, Colorado tourism has a stake in protecting the quality of its open spaces, national forests and parks and heritage. All of this in turn generates not only jobs and entrepreneurship, but fosters the growth of community wellbeing and engagement, cultural assets and infrastructure that’s available not only to visitors but residents.

Stewardship of what makes our state so special creates a virtuous circle that expands and encompasses ever more opportunity. So many other states struggle to achieve what we come by so naturally. That is what’s so magnificent about sharing our love of Colorado with others. As poet David Mason explains so much more eloquently, that’s just the way it is here.

“You never need to wonder why the wild will take your breath away,” he writes. “That’s how it is in Colorado.”

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