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Colorado Tourism Office’s new director will stay the course on sustainability, mitigating visitor impacts

Timothy Wolfe replaces Cathy Ritter, who was ousted from her six-year position in April by Pat Meyers, Colorado’s new director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade

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Colorado hospitality veteran Timothy Wolfe is taking the reins at the Colorado Tourism Office just as the state’s tourism industry lurches and limps out of a pandemic decline.

“Economic recovery for our industry is essential,” said Wolfe, pointing to the Colorado Tourism Office’s two-phase, $3 million Roadmap to Recovery to reignite the state’s tourism economy. “We are focused on helping the tourism industry rebound as quickly as possible.”

Wolfe replaces Cathy Ritter, who was ousted from her six-year position in April by Pat Meyers, Colorado’s new director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Wolfe recently was the general manager of both the 241-room Brown Place and adjacent 231-room Holiday Inn Express Downtown Denver. He is a veteran of the state’s highest profile tourism boards. He served on Visit Denver’s board of directors, was twice the board chairman for the Colorado Tourism Office and chaired the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association board.

He arrives as Front Range hotels and tourist businesses are pining for groups and business travelers while mountain destinations bemoan a record-setting crush of visitors. Wolfe said the state’s tourism industry must address the growing challenges surrounding affordable housing in mountain communities and labor shortages in the hospitality industry. 

Destination marketing organizations like the Colorado Tourism Office “must lead the way,” he said. 

Tim Wolfe, a longtime veteran of Colorado’s hotel industry, is the new executive director of the Colorado Tourism Office. (Handout)

“By building back and evolving with industry needs, we can show the value of tourism to the residents of Colorado — the jobs it creates, the taxes it saves, the new dollars it brings into Colorado,” said in an email. “Tourism is a $24 billion part of Colorado’s strong economy and part of our job at the CTO is to help ensure that its benefits are seen and felt by all Coloradans.”

Wolfe begins his new job at a critical moment, not unlike his predecessor who took over the state tourism office just as the marijuana tourist industry exploded. Colorado’s tourist reliant businesses are enduring a critical labor shortage. Destination management groups across the state — there are 33 of them — are recasting tourism marketing messages from clarion calls for all visitors to campaigns that educate visitors about how to minimize impacts. They are also working with locals to better illustrate the role of tourism in local economies. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

That shift from marketing to management balances the benefits of tourism and mitigates the impacts of over-tourism, Wolfe said, so both visitors and guests benefit. 

“This was a priority before COVID and the post-COVID migration to outdoor destinations has accelerated those efforts,” he said, pointing to the Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s help to fund the $16.8 million modular housing construction facility in Buena Vista as an example of the state’s focus on both economic momentum and mitigating the impacts of tourism and growth. 

Amie Mayhew, the president and CEO of the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association, called Wolfe “a very thoughtful leader.” Wolfe’s career at the intersection of hospitality and tourism policy, she said, makes him “absolutely the right person to thread this needle during these challenging times.”

“Coming in understanding both the tourism industry and political policy,” she said, “he can really serve as a guide, figuring out what makes sense for the state and what makes sense for some of these local communities, and making sure the state’s messaging is aligning with what these local DMOs are doing and what the dollars from the state are meant to do.”

Wolfe said he would continue the Colorado Tourism Office’s focus on sustainable tourism and the “Care for Colorado” principles that grew last year to include messages for both tourists and residents. He said this winter’s “Do Colorado Right” campaign, which tapped Colorado influencers to promote masks and social-distancing, will be expanded to include fire prevention and low-impact travel messages.

“The ‘Do Colorado Right’ campaign evolves with current needs such as mitigating overcrowding, disposing of trash properly and hiring local guides,” said Wolfe, who also will continue the Colorado Tourism Office’s new backcountry safety campaign promoting safe travel in avalanche terrain.

Richard Scharf, the head of Visit Denver whose resume of board service rivals Wolfe’s, said Wolfe is “a real believer in tourism marketing” who will work closely with the state’s 33 destination marketing organizations.

“He understands the importance of the work we are doing,” Scharf said. “We need someone to bring us together and find common ground.”

Wolfe’s experience managing hotels including the Brown Palace lends the management experience needed as Colorado’s destination marketing groups transition into tourism management organizations, Scharf said. 

The recent concerns over traffic in the backcountry and overwhelming crowds in popular destinations like Crested Butte and Telluride need management, Scharf said. He points to  innovative programs like Glenwood Springs’ use of shuttles and reservations to manage traffic at the popular Hanging Lake trail and Boulder’s use of downtown buses to ease parking problems at Chautauqua Park as examples of destinations managing tourism without rejecting visitors.

“Tim is a strong leader and, like they say, you don’t make generals in peace time and this is an opportunity for him to tackle what is really a management issue,” Scharf said.


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