Season premiere: Creating an environment for Aspen to thrive

Annika Rautiola

4 August 2023

“If you look at an Aspen tree, we’re sort of the trunk and underneath is the root system. And we all have to be working together in unison, making sure that we’re taking care of all of the roots so that the tree can grow.”

– Debbie Braun, President & CEO, Aspen Chamber Resort Association


 What was once a Ute Nation hunting territory became a mining town and has evolved into a remarkable resort destination where the elite vacation and power brokers converge. Aspen, Colorado attracts visitors from across the U.S. and around the world with its breathtaking landscapes, opulent offerings, and famous gathering places that have produced a rich tapestry of philanthropy and new ideas. But what does all that success mean for finding harmony between tourism and local living?

Join us for a new season of Travel Beyond as we explore Aspen’s innovations in sustainability and travel and learn about the community’s destination management plan (DMP) that weaves it all together. 

In our season premiere episode, we shine the spotlight on Aspen’s DMP and its profound implications for the way tourism is evolving alongside the needs of local residents. Join us as we engage in conversation with Aspen Mayor Torre about how local leadership is thinking about sustainability. We also speak with Eliza Voss and Debbie Braun of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, who provide insights into the strategies driving Aspen’s future. Together, we explore the pressing issues that led to the creation of the destination management plan, the challenges it addresses, and the promising initiatives designed to foster a sustainable and prosperous future for Aspen.

What can your destination management organization (DMO) learn from Aspen’s innovations? Plenty. In this episode, you’ll find:

  • The driving forces behind the creation of Aspen’s destination management plan.
  • The issues keeping Mayor Torre up at night.
  • Insight into the community’s involvement in shaping the future of Aspen’s tourism industry.
  • The innovative programs that enhance the lives of tourism operators and staff.
  • The role of travel in a warming world.


Are you new to the podcast? Travel Beyond is your gateway to exploring the greatest challenges faced by communities and the planet, as well as discovering the most inspiring solutions. In partnership with leading destinations, this podcast highlights the pivotal role of travel and focuses on showcasing global leaders in the field. Through in-depth conversations with changemakers, the podcast delves into the realm of regenerative travel, shedding light on bottom-up initiatives that drive positive change within communities.

Don’t miss Aspen’s season premiere on the Travel Beyond podcast. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player to join us on this journey.


Show notes

Aspen Centre for Environmental Studies – an environmental science education organization. 

Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA) – functions as a hybrid chamber of commerce and destination marketing organization.

ACRA’s destination management plan – Aspen’s DMP for 2022 – 2027, developed alongside the community using a process led by Destination Think.

Aspen Ideas Festival – a week-long event held in Aspen that includes discussions, seminars, panels, and tutorials from journalists, designers, innovators, politicians, diplomats, presidents, judges, musicians, artists, and writers.

The Aspen Institute – an international nonprofit organization that aims to drive change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world.

Aspen Skiing Company – The Aspen Skiing Company operates the Aspen/Snowmass resort complex, which comprises four ski areas: Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass.

Elected Officials Transportation Committee – established in 1993 as an advisory committee for fixed route public transit within the Roaring Fork Valley that is comprised of the elected officials from the City of Aspen, Town of Snowmass Village, and Pitkin County.

H20 Ventures – Business helping to manage to flow of visitors to popular outdoor locations. 

Roaring Fork ReStore – Non-profit home improvement store and donation centre that sells new and gently used furniture, appliances, building materials and more. Operated by Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley. 

Valley Health Alliance – not-for-profit organization of employers, doctors and hospitals from Aspen to Parachute region who are working to develop a sustainable local healthcare ecosystem that increases patient access, improves healthcare outcomes, and lowers costs for everyone.


Episode transcript

Eliza Voss  00:00

We need to protect quality of life for our residents and preserve the very reason people enjoy coming here. 

Debbie Braun  00:06

Think if you look at an aspen tree, we’re sort of the trunk and underneath is the root system. We all have to be working together.

Mayor Torre  00:14

It’s very easy to get trapped into the same kind of thinking that has got us to where we are now.

David Archer  00:40

Hello, and welcome to Travel Beyond, where we partner with leading destinations to explore the greatest challenges facing communities and the planet, surfacing their most inspiring solutions. I’m David Archer, Editorial Manager at Destination Think, and I’m recording from the coastal village of Daajing Giids, British Columbia, which is in Haida Gwaii, the territory of the Haida nation. 

Rodney Payne  00:58

And I’m Rodney Payne. I’m the CEO of Destination Think, and I’m recording this from my home in Revelstoke, British Columbia. It’s a city on the territory of four First Nations, the Sinixt, the Secwepemc, the Syilx and the Ktunaxa. On this show, we look at the role of travel and choose to highlight destinations that are global leaders. We talk to the changemakers, who are addressing regenerative travel through action in their communities, very often from the bottom up. 

David Archer  01:28

Yeah, and we’re actively looking for the best examples of efforts to regenerate economies, communities and ecosystems. So be sure to reach out if you have a story to share with us. And we’d like to welcome you to our season about Aspen, Colorado. And we’re very excited about this. We’d like to thank the Aspen Chamber Resort Association for hosting our team and sponsoring this season. And in particular, Eliza and Debbie, who you’ll hear from later in the episode, for hosting us. And so I just want to give our listeners a quick primer on what Aspen, Colorado is, where it is, what kind of place it is. So this is a ski resort town in the central Rocky Mountains. It’s got a history of silver mining, dating back to the 1800s. And then, after the Second World War, the town had kind of a regrowth phase, thanks in part to the development of the first ski runs, and then also annual events that have become quite prestigious and invited national and international collaboration across many disciplines of art, science and culture. There’s an annual festival, the Aspen Ideas Festival that’s actually happening this week as we record. And today there are four ski areas around Aspen. The town has a year round population of around 6000, which grows to up to 27,000 in high season. And it’s located about a three and a half hour drive from Denver, surrounded by three airports. So there’s a lot of air access here, and direct service from major cities like LA, Houston and Chicago. And beyond that Aspen is a community. But it’s also the playground of the rich and famous, and there’s no way around that. It’s very hard to afford a home in Aspen. For example, there’s a Forbes article from February of 2022. That says the single family median sales price rose to $14.55 million. With the average sale price for townhouses and condos at around 4.2 million. This is quite a remarkable place and in many ways, and looking forward to getting into it and some of the innovations happening here. Rodney, you have anything to add? Or what are your overall impressions of Aspen?

Rodney Payne  03:49

I think that a lot of people may be thinking that Aspen is an unrelatable destination. But I think Aspen can also be a window into the future for a lot of places. Maybe it’s a ski town and other people are listening from places that don’t have mountains, but I think it’s a window into the future for a lot of places that are on the map globally, whether that’s from a tourism or political or economic perspective in terms of the challenges that Aspen is facing and what we can learn from them.

David Archer  04:24

Yeah, there’s certainly all the resources in the world to back it up, too. And this season, we’ve got some fascinating interviews lined up. We will hear about housing with former state senator Gail Schwartz next episode, we’re going to talk with Cristal Logan of the Aspen Institute about ideas and influence in this conference that I mentioned. We’re going to talk about the values of residents and visitors and the circular economy with Steve Skadron of Colorado Mountain College. We’re going to talk transportation and visitor experiences with Ken Murphy and Linda DuPriest and then we’re going to talk about sustainability and how change happens with some really quite amazing examples from the Senior Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company, Auden Schendler.   Aspen has appeared on this podcast in the past, in our first season about Revelstoke,  Rodney, you’ll remember that Eliza Voss, one of our guests today was on an episode to talk about housing programs. And I wonder how you’d compare Aspen’s position in sort of a destination or place lifecycle compared to Revelstoke, which is also a ski resort.

Rodney Payne  05:37

I think Aspen is a more mature destination in that, you know, it’s been online for a lot longer as a resort. The the real tourism infrastructure that came in here on a world scale came in just over 10 years ago, the gondola to the top of a huge mountain that you can ski down and bike down. Aspen’s been hosting skiers and visitors for a lot longer than Revelstoke, decades longer. But I think even though Aspen is further on the lifecycle, it’s facing many similar challenges to Revelstoke and a lot of other mountain towns, resort towns and tourism destinations and, addressing pressures that we can all learn from. 

David Archer  06:19

Yeah, and that sense it is quite a relatable place and that you can see sort of the ending stages or the the late maturing stages of of some of the issues that were that were grappling with in tourism. And a couple of years ago Destination Think worked with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association on an extensive public engagement process to create Aspen’s Destination Management Plan, which was released last year. Can you talk about the significance of that plan? 

Rodney Payne  06:49

So the Aspen Chamber and Resort Association has historically been in charge of letting the world know how beautiful Aspen is a place for people to visit. And they’ve stepped up and taken upon themselves the responsibility of listening to the community and created a plan to find balance and reconcile the various pressures that exist to make sure tourism is working for Aspen. 

David Archer  07:18

Yeah, and we’re going to learn about that destination management plan. In this episode, we’re going to have three interviews for you today. First, we’ll hear from Eliza Voss, the Vice President of Destination Marketing at Aspen Chamber Resort Association, here she is.

Eliza Voss  07:40

I’m Eliza Voss, and I should note that we are recording in Aspen, Colorado, the ancestral territory of the Uncompahgre Tribe of the Ute Nation. We honor the inherent stewardship native people have for the land waters and air that our residents and visitors continue to have the privilege to revel in. 

Rodney Payne  08:01

How does spending time and Aspen inform your values and your appreciation for the world?

Eliza Voss  08:07

I just feel like you wake up here every day and you have to have gratitude for the natural beauty around us. It has definitely made me more aware of sustainability and taking care of the earth and being a good steward for my children who I’m raising here for sure. I just think being this close to nature makes you really aware of how we need to care for the planet.

Rodney Payne  08:35

What is ACRA? And what do you do?

Eliza Voss  08:38

So the Aspen Chamber is a hybrid of a chamber of commerce, traditional chamber of commerce and then a destination marketing management organization. I am specifically working on the marketing management side and that’s funded by a lodging tax, which is collected by Aspen lodges. And I do a lot. I’m responsible for not only marketing the destination, but also interfacing with business owners, lodges restaurants, and also this pivot into managing the destination. So each day is very different.

Rodney Payne  09:15

Do you think people in the community know what your organization does? Do you think your mom knows what you do for work?

Eliza Voss  09:20

Definitely not. Every now and then I send my mom the wrap up video we do so, you know, she can feel like she knows, but no. And I know there’s a lot of  organizations in the community. So the City of aspen Pitkin County, Aspen Skiing Company. So to be fair, there’s like logo soup going on. And there’s a lot of confusion for the general passerby. We have a super engaged board and membership so they are absolutely aware of what we’re doing. But I think the average person just walking down the street might confuse us with the City of Aspen.

Rodney Payne  10:03

Typically, the organization responsible for destination marketing, runs the visitor center in town, provides some support to tourism businesses and promotes place. You recently built a destination management plan, and our team got to work with you. Why does Aspen need a destination management plan?

Eliza Voss  10:26

We need a destination management plan because we were getting to a place where the quality of life for the residents was being impacted. And also the experience for the visitor was being impacted. So I would say we had put some pieces of what we would call destination management into place prior to the plan. But the plan really was a catalyst for us to speak to our residents. Historically, destination marketing management organizations have really been focused on visitor perception, which is correct, but I think we got too far away from the people living in the place.

Rodney Payne  11:08

You invested a lot of energy in talking to the community. Can you tell me a little bit about the process?

Eliza Voss  11:16

it was very daunting going into it, we did a lot of grassroots efforts to get people engaged. So emailing my own personal contacts to get people to participate in the Resident Sentiment Survey, that was probably the biggest lift because we did all of our cocreation labs and tourism town halls online because it was COVID. So I think we could have maybe had a little bit more visibility if it was actually live and in person. But we did get decent participation in those.

Rodney Payne  11:47

Why is it important to talk to the community?

Eliza Voss  11:52

Our community is incredibly passionate about everything. So they it’s really important to engage with them instead of them feeling like tourism is being done to them. And to understand. I mean, luckily, we are a tourism board that is embedded in the communities that we do understand, we feel it as both the resident and an employee of the organization. So we understand a little bit but getting the diverse perspectives is really important.

Rodney Payne  12:22

What did you find? What did you learn through the process?

Eliza Voss  12:26

It was really insightful to see that people were willing to embrace this shift, the more they kind of, I would say, socialized with the idea. There were definitely people that I realized after the fact we should have engaged with more and kind of forced to pay attention, because then we got feedback after the fact that they weren’t thrilled with that direction. And I think, ultimately, everybody could have been more on board if we had engaged and really gotten them more comfortable with what we’re doing. Because it can be scary for a business owner to think about losing something.

Rodney Payne  13:09

Yeah, the word management is almost the wrong word. Because when you said destination management, it instantly implies restriction. Protection, maybe, protection of home would be another. Protecting our asset, like a lot of the, we’ll get to this, but a lot of the people that you’ve introduced us to that we’ve spoken to this week, have described the importance of it, in their own words, around protecting the very thing that, you know, is at the center of the economy here. And I think that’ll be enlightening to sort of reflect on.  How has your team reacted to what the community told you and the direction and the plan?

Eliza Voss  13:56

I’m very lucky, I have a really strong team who is as invested in the community as I am. So I feel really grateful for that. And they’re all in. I would say we had contractors that handle public relations and some things like that, that when we first started talking about destination management, the first thing you think is, oh, my gosh, am I going to lose my job? So once we’ve moved through that, everybody really has embraced not only the work we’re doing, but …I think in a resort community to have a profession and a career and something that you’re passionate about is fairly unique. And so I think, you know, they are growing professionally because of the work that we’re doing outside of kind of the original mission vision.

Rodney Payne  14:48

It’s not easy to go through a planning process during a pandemic, as we’ve learned. What are some of the things that you have noticed as you’ve socialized the plan and started to gain some traction?

Eliza Voss  14:58

I think a lot of that angst that informed some of that address visitor pressure piece. We’re, I mean, that exists for sure. Right. But it was exacerbated by a lot of new residents moving to town. And people really didn’t have the chance because things were shut and closed off to really integrate. So the visitor takes heat for something that actually is a hometown situation. So that’s just interesting, as well, as you know, we released the plan, then Ukrainian war started, and economic impacts were felt because of that. So almost immediately, you’re changing the factors outside of your control. So you are constantly kind of pivoting to what that means locally.

Rodney Payne  15:53

Where are you most excited to see progress?

Eliza Voss  15:55

I like all of the aspects, I think there’s some real movement that can happen. The City of Aspen has an incredible sustainability team in place. And I think, in the next three to five years, we’re going to see some large gains there. Aspen was a leader for many years in climate initiatives. And then I think we kind of got busy doing other things. And that took a backseat. So I think it’s time to now put that at the forefront again. And then there’s a lot of entities working to solve the housing issue locally. But we also know that housing is not the only reason people are or aren’t employed, we actually have a study from the membership side that the owner CEO level, believes that housing is one reason,  the main reason they lose employees. And then those employees report that’s one factor of many. So it’s really more of a, I guess, entire quality of life piece.

Rodney Payne  17:00

If you look forward into the future, let’s say you’ve been working on this for another 10 years. And you think about the impact that that work could have in 15 or 20 years. What’s your vision for what Aspen can be?

Eliza Voss  17:14

My hope is that that edge or the tension is softened a little bit, that people have kind of integrated a little bit more and realized that more can be done. Working towards something than just talking about the negative impacts that change may have had. Change is constant. And we have to evolve and try and figure out how to work with it.

Rodney Payne  17:46

Which aspects of the plan do you think will be the easiest to address?

Eliza Voss  17:50

The City of Aspen is at a point where it’s going to be implementing some policy changes that will impact in a good way, the greenhouse gas emissions from buildings and be able to make some headway in trying to establish current climate emissions and then go down from there.

Rodney Payne  18:16

What are the most challenging aspects of trying to find balance between what residents need to thrive and what the visitor economy needs to thrive?

Eliza Voss  18:26

There’s always loud voices in the room. And I think I work for an organization that does need to answer to businesses. And so you can react instead of kind of calmly staying the course. And that’s true for everybody who’s doing this work is that you can get detract distracted from the work of the plan by people who are trying to protect their own interests as well.

Rodney Payne  19:00

Do you think places like Aspen have a responsibility?

Eliza Voss  19:03

Yeah, I mean, with great knowledge and wealth, there is some responsibility. Aspen prides itself on kind of being a place where great ideas are discussed, and certainly great amounts of wealth flow through here. So it should take that and turn it into of movement for good.

Rodney Payne  19:24

When you look around the community, who inspires you or which organizations inspire you?

Eliza Voss  19:30

Color Colorado Mountain College is doing some really exciting work with their curriculum, adding Circular Economy opportunities with the textile program. The Aspen Skiing Company is been a leader in sustainability and pursuing climate initiatives for a long time. Housing has been something that this valley tackled pretty early on in the 70s. And that program was instrumental in setting us up for success today, but there’s further work that needs to be done. So the private public partnership between Roaring Fork ReStore, and the governmental entities and looking at housing from a regional basis instead of just the upper valley is really inspiring. The transportation collaboration between different governmental agencies is pretty remarkable. And ahead of its time when the elected officials Transportation Committee was formed in the 90s. I think I’ve mentioned H2O Ventures as an independent business, but has helped solve many public lands challenges in the valley with logistics in particular. And then ACES is always which is the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, they’re always kind of moving the needle. And also, they have a lot of public facing programs that people are aware of their farm to table dinners, a visit at Hallam lake, but they’re also doing forest inventory. And that type of work is usually more in the background, but very instrumental in keeping the biodiversity of this area.

Rodney Payne  21:11

What’s the role of travel on a warming planet?

Eliza Voss  21:17

I think travel can still connect us and expose why it all matters. You know, I grew up on the East Coast, there was so much water. Basically all the houses are below a water table. So your basements flooding, and there, there’s no concept of the fact that their water could run out. And then I go to a bachelorette party in Scottsdale, Arizona, and you’re looking around thinking, weird. Where did these people get water? And I think there’s just so much value in seeing that firsthand. You could read about it all you want. And it doesn’t really hit home until you see it.

Rodney Payne  22:01

We’ve had some really good chats about mindset and our mental modeling around solutions and problems. How do you think about problem solving? And what do you wish other some other people did around solution orientation?

Eliza Voss  22:16

I always joke that in tourism, we’re building the airplane while we’re flying it. So we’re just kind of like, ‘Alright, let’s do it, we can do this’. And then you’re like, oh, maybe I should get this wing in place over here. So I think sometimes people let perfection be in the way of progress. And I wish people would just kind of dive in, that’s probably not always the best recommendation. But I think we would…I don’t know, we’d get something going.

Rodney Payne  22:50

What support do you need?

Eliza Voss  22:51

I feel like we need to clone the people that really understand the plan and get them out. You know, when they always say if you feel like you’ve talked about this plan that you could never talk about it again, you’re just getting started. And I feel like we got there. And I couldn’t believe, you know, it’s sometimes hard to believe like, oh, my gosh, I’ve said this same presentation, or I’ve said the same words, so many times. Who’s out there? But you need to get out there times four of that. So I think you just need almost to deputize everybody within an organization as well as and make them tap 10 of their friends.

Rodney Payne  23:34

What about from the tourism industry? What support do you need? 

Eliza Voss  23:37

I think we have an opportunity to put more of a stake in the ground of how we would like to invite our guests to align with the community values. I think for a little while, that was the case. And then it seems like maybe financial priorities took over. So I think we can align with those values.

Rodney Payne  24:03

I think the fundamental teaching of hospitality that the guest is always right, has done us a huge disservice, globally. Right. And that maybe it’s more about respect. What do you need from the government at different levels?

Eliza Voss  24:20

We have a pretty great working relationship with them. So I think it’s just continuing down that line. When counsil turns over, there’s a big kind of onboarding, to get everybody aware of what we’re doing and why it matters. 

Rodney Payne  24:37

And what do you need from visitors?

Eliza Voss  24:40

This is a real place. It’s not Disneyland, people live here. And we very much want visitors to be here, but we want them to understand that this is a real community and a home.

Rodney Payne  24:50

What advice do you have other communities or people in your shoes who are responsible for stewarding a destination and making a huge leap from marketing to management?

Eliza Voss  25:00

Go out and ride your bike! Remember why you’re doing it. Because I think it is it can take a toll. If you are embedded in the community that you are making the shift in, yeah to get out and enjoy, enjoy the place and understand why you’re doing the hard work.

David Archer  25:24

That was Eliza Voss of Aspen Chamber Resort Association. And if you’re interested in any of those projects that Eliza mentioned, check out our show notes on the blog. Later this season, we’ll get to chat with many of those people and organizations. Now let’s shift gears and go to our next interview. Rodney also spoke with Aspen’s Mayor Torre about the resort towns approach to sustainability. Here’s Mayor Torre.

Rodney Payne  25:51

So can you just tell us your name and role again?

Mayor Torre  25:56

Sure, my name is Torre. And I’m the Mayor of Aspen, Colorado,

Rodney Payne  25:59

And top two issues that keep you up at night?

Mayor Torre  26:02

Top two issues that keep me up at night are about community health and community support for our residents, as well as our visitors. And then the housing struggle that we have. Housing, lack of housing and lack of attainable or affordable housing has many impacts for our community.

Rodney Payne  26:21

If you think about the trajectory that the world is on, or the environmental issues, the social issues, often interrelated. Where do you think the solution lies?

Mayor Torre  26:30

I think I think the solution lies in us getting back to being people-based about our decision making. You know, there’s a balance that we need to strike. Our environment, our natural environment, a lot of people consider that to be just your your mountains, your streams, your trees, but really human beings are part of that natural environment. So restoring our our focus on on people first is probably our best and first step forward.

Rodney Payne  26:55

When it comes to the environment in the day to day operations of running a bustling community like Aspen, how does the environment factor in to your work?

Mayor Torre  27:05

So on City Council, as a body city council that governs the City of Aspen, we’ve identified the environment as a lens. So regardless of what decision we’re making, what topic we’re talking about, everything should have that environmental lens around it, so that we’re making progress in every area, whether that’s the infrastructure, building codes that we have, anything that we do needs to have an environmental lens on it so that we’re making progress and greening as we go.

Rodney Payne  27:34

How does the city work with the ACRA? What’s the relationship between yourself and Debbie and Eliza’s team?

Mayor Torre  27:41

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association and the City of Aspen have a very close and intertwined relationship. ACRA, as they’re known, takes care of a lot of our visitor services, if you will, but also our business services. And then over the recent years with, you know, pandemic and the like, ACRA really stepped into a community leadership role, convening the community, creating townhall meetings for us. So really create a lot of connection. The City of Aspen both contracts with them, but also collaborates with them in so many areas.

Rodney Payne  28:18

And when you think about shifting the focus to people, and you think about an economy that’s heavily dependent on tourism, and people visiting. How does tourism factor into shifting that focus? What sorts of things can we do to really put our resident quality of life and focus and make sure the tourism system is really working for us as a community?

Mayor Torre  28:44

You know, everybody that lives in Aspen realizes how lucky we are to be here. We also recognize how special of a place this is. And we want to share it. So for us, tourism is not just an economic driver. It’s really about, you know, again, to use the word community, society, culture, bringing people together and sharing what what we’ve gotten from Aspen. So, you know, I think we have a very healthy view about our visitorship. We want to share Aspen, with everybody.

Rodney Payne  29:22

What initiatives are you most excited about in the tourism space?

Mayor Torre  29:26

I think I’m most excited about some of some of our land management strategies, protecting our trails and some of our more scenic areas that are heavily trafficked. So better management there and really making it so that it’s accessible and available to everybody but so that it still is maintained for everybody. Other than that, the education that we’re doing and connecting people to the natural surroundings so they have a better appreciation for it, and then maybe take that appreciation home to wherever they’re from, and start making progress where they come from.

Rodney Payne  30:05

like a lot of your counterparts around the world, affordable housing, especially post-pandemic, because we sort of navigate our way out of COVID, is one of the things keeping you up at night. What are some of the things that are being worked on and put in place? What are the conversations being had and the initiatives that you’re preparing?

Mayor Torre  30:25

So we recently have developed a housing strategic plan. And that really identified 14 action items that are areas that we can make improvement in. Whether that’s new building of new units, whether that’s some sort of buy down or low interest loan programs to help people, so many tools in our toolbox, and we’ve identified those recently, we’re moving ahead with just about every one of them. And we’re also looking for new solutions. You know, this is, I guess, something that we look at as an ongoing issue for us. This is a very desirable place to be. It’s very limited in its natural resources for land and the like. So it’s going to be something that we look to make improvements on. And it’s going to take us years to really strike the final balance for what works for our community.

Rodney Payne  31:15

With so many big problems in the world getting worse. What do you think the role of travel and the tourism industry is going forward?

Mayor Torre  31:26

Yeah. You know, I mean, it’s, it’s right on the forefront for Aspen, especially Aspen summertime, with the Ideas Festival being hosted here by the Aspen Institute. You know, we look at, I say we, people that live here, other people that have an appreciation for Aspen, we look at this as like a giant classroom. The experiences that people can have while they’re here in Aspen can be profound, have life changing effects. And that’s, that’s why we love to share this place so much is because we recognize that the lessons learned here are something that are applicable for anybody anywhere, and we love to share those lessons.

Rodney Payne  32:03

What do you think the world can learn from Aspen?

Mayor Torre  32:07

Respect. Respect for our natural surroundings, respect for other people, respect for community and society. We have a high value on culture and arts. We want people to live their greatest life. One of the reasons that I actually moved here to Aspen was because for the first time, as a young man, I moved somewhere. And people that I first met would say, Who do you want to be? Or what do you want to do? And how can I help you achieve it? That was stunning to me. And I mean, I’m living proof. It’s, it’s worked.

Rodney Payne  32:41

That’s really cool. Do you have any advice or warnings or motivation for people around the world who are grappling with the same issues as you are here?

Mayor Torre  32:53

Look for new ways of problem solving. It’s very easy to get trapped into the same kind of thinking that has got us to where we are now. But our future is different than our present and much different than our past. So you’ve got to think about solutions in a different way and attack problems with open dialogue, collaboration, and an open mind for things that may not be apparent in the first.

Rodney Payne  33:19

when you think about the future, are you optimistic or frightened?

Mayor Torre  33:23

I’m completely optimistic. I’m hopeful forever.

David Archer  33:33

That was Aspen’s Mayor Torre. And for our final interview today, let’s go to Debbie Braun, the President and CEO at Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

Debbie Braun  33:45

Hi, I’m Debbie Braun, President and CEO of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

Rodney Payne  33:51

What do you love about Aspen?

Debbie Braun 33:53

What isn’t there to love about Aspen. I love the people, I love that every day when I drive to work, I’m still in awe, by the wonder of the mountains, the people, the place.

Rodney Payne  34:07

How does living here inform your values?

Debbie Braun  34:10

What Aspen gives to me is small town character, gives me community. A lot of times in the big cities, I don’t feel like you can connect as well as you can here in the mountains.

Rodney Payne  34:24

Can you explain how your organization fits into the tourism and government landscape in Aspen?

Debbie Braun  34:31

Yeah, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, I’d like to say we’re a hybrid organization. We’re sort of like a traditional Chamber of Commerce and a CVB, which is what we used to call destination marketing organizations. So I like to think that we are kind of the connector in the convener of community between our businesses. We have over 800 member businesses. We also run the destination marketing program here, which gets a lodging tax. So it’s kind of nice, healthy budget to it to promote tourism here. We work with our government officials and nonprofit partners. So arts and culture, they don’t like to be lumped in as business, they find that through their own group of people. And the Chamber’s job is really to coordinate activities. A lot of times I feel like I’m air traffic control. Somebody calls me and says, Debbie, I’ve got a problem. And I’m like, this is who you would call in the city, this is who you’d call in the county. Oh, you want to put on a special event. Here’s your contact here. So we really are sort of a hub of all activity that goes on in Aspen.

Rodney Payne  35:43

I think about it like glue or mycelium in soil connecting all the different, you know, nutrient parts within the soil. Right? That’s such an important role for the chamber or the tourism board.

Debbie Braun  35:52

Yeah, I kind of think if you look at an aspen tree, we’re sort of the trunk and underneath is the root system. And we all have to be working together in unison, making sure that we’re taking care of all of the roots so that the tree can grow.

Rodney Payne  36:05

I love that analogy. And it’s topical. Since we are here in Aspen. What would you love to see in the future? What’s your vision for tourism here?

Debbie Braun  36:15

Well, wouldn’t it be great if we could find that beautiful, delicate balance of harmony between our residents, between our visitors, between our businesses? Two thirds of the businesses don’t live inside the city limits of Aspen, therefore they can’t vote on really important issues. So if we could speak in a singular voice to our government officials, and talk to our residents and bring it all together, so that we feel like there’s some harmony running around in our community instead of divisiveness. And Aspen really prides itself on being a leader and working together, they always say the rising tide lifts all the boats here. So we don’t compete so much against each other as much as we try to lift each other up.

Rodney Payne  37:04

You’ve been at the Chamber for 23 years, just turned 24. If you had a time machine. Are there any moments in Aspen’s tourism history that you’d go back and modify?

Debbie Braun  37:17

No, I think we have been at a slow and steady pace since our first lodging tax got passed in 2000. So in 2000, we really were not marketing Aspen. Aspen’s reputation was sort of standing on its own, with the lifestyles of the rich and famous. So what I think we’ve really been proud of over the last 20 years is taking this slow approach. I always say the turtle wins in the end. So we have taken our time to create relationships with our community, with our businesses, with our big partners, like the Skiing Company, Snowmass Tourism. I think it’s very important that our local vision matches the reputation, the world class reputation. I think it’s very important that our locals have a say, in how we are marketed and how we are presented to the world.

Rodney Payne  38:14

Our teams recently got to work together on the Destination Management Plan. Why does Aspen need a destination management plan?

Debbie Braun  38:22

Well, Aspen needs a destination management plan because if someone’s not paying attention to what’s going on, I think there’s some saying that the monkeys will overrun the zoo. So when you’re only looking at one part, the city might just be looking at a municipality standpoint, businesses are just looking at their bottom line, there needs to be somebody in our community taking a more holistic approach to visitor activity to residential activity, and actually kind of turning our spigot on and off when appropriate. So it’s really important for a destination management plan, especially in a mature destination.

Rodney Payne  39:03

You invested a lot of time and resources and really listening to the community and really understanding what’s important to the people who live here and work here and run businesses here. What are some of the standout issues that we need to address in destination management for you?

Debbie Braun  39:19

Well, I hate to even say it because it seems more like a buzzword, but sustainability for our community. So it’s not just the environment that needs sustainability. It’s our employees, it’s transportation. It’s really beginning to say not one industry is more important than the other industry. And each and every one needs a partner in making progress moving forward.

Rodney Payne  39:46

The tension around the evolution of Aspen’s spirit came up in the plan and that’s not unusual for us to see in a place, as people move and values shift and change over time, especially when you go something as transformative as a pandemic as a community. How do you strike a balance in, you know, the values as they change and how people interpret what it means, you know, to have Aspen spirit?

Debbie Braun  40:13

Well, I love the fact that we have spirit. And I love the fact that over 1000, locals wanted to come out and talk to us about how they were feeling, especially remember, we were doing this during the pandemic, it gave a voice to people who didn’t feel like they had a voice. So I was not surprised to see, Aspen is beautiful, but angry. I think that was the term that we all sort of went wow. And I think by allowing people to tell you that they’re angry, and talk about what that is, almost as a release valve for them, if you just want to be heard, and once you’re herd, I think that’s already taken our attention and our community down a little bit. And then actualizing what we can from the plan to help mitigate how they’re feeling. They like that. And they deserve that. I mean, Aspen was not built by visitors alone. You know, it was ranchers and miners, and many, many generations of families coming through here. It’s a real community. And the community should have a say, in how we market and present ourselves now and into the future.

Rodney Payne  41:32

I know that community health is something that’s really important to you. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you see it fit with tourism?

Debbie Braun  41:40

Right. Well, we don’t have a tourism economy whatsoever if we don’t have healthy employees, healthy businesses. So sustainability runs in a lot of different gamuts. And one of the things I’m really proud about the chamber is we host Public Affairs Committees, we have Marketing Committees, and we sit on committees all over our community. And one of the ones that is really near and dear to my heart is the Valley Health Alliance. So about 10 to 15 years ago, our county and our city said, We cannot provide insurance to our employees, because the costs are getting too high. So the county manager had a meeting with the CEO of Aspen Valley Hospital and said, What can we start to do to make health care affordable and available to the residents of our community. So over the last 10 years, the Valley Health Alliance has come together. And all the major employers in our community have self insured, they are working to contain cost. But more importantly, they’re helping every individual in our community get a primary care provider. And why that’s so important is, integrated health care, in our own community, drives down on cost, and the cost of doing business in Aspen. If it’s not health care, it’s child care, it’s transportation, it’s rent, there are so many reasons, it feels like people want you to leave Aspen. So to do anything we can to help our employers and our employees cut cost and have better outcomes by having a primary care provider. That’s what that Valley Health Alliance is really all about. So it’s not always about pricing. And we’re able to through the Alliance to talk directly to hospitals, doctors, businesses, all working together to not only lower prices, but to give better care. And that’s something that I don’t think that every destination is focusing on. So it’s something that we’re really proud of the work that we’re doing here.

Rodney Payne  43:49

It’s definitely really unique. What do you an ACRA need, what support you need from the community or from businesses and stakeholders to have a bigger impact?

Debbie Braun  44:01

Well, I think it’s the same for almost everyone. It’s engagement. We’re putting together a destination management plan. If no one looks at the document, and it sits in Eliza’s office on a desk picking up a dust, then what did we really do for community? So it’s incumbent upon our elected officials to look at the document and find places that we can work together. It’s incumbent on our businesses to understand where they can participate and feel like they have a sense of the outcome. You know, sometimes in this world, everything is so crazy and you don’t really feel like you have control. Well, if you participate in our destination management plan, you are controlling, sort of, the future of the destination.

Rodney Payne  44:52

If you could implant a piece of learning or knowledge in the community, broadly, what would it be? What do you know that you wish everyone else knew?

Debbie Braun  45:00

Well, the the one pushback we’ve gotten from the destination management plan, and I wish I could sing this song a little bit louder so the people in the back could hear, is that when they hear that ARCA is shifting to destination management, their first gut reaction is, but you still need to market, you still need to be marketing, why aren’t you marketing, you’re a marketing organization. Your mission says to attract people to the resort, not manage people in the resort. So I wish I could convey to everyone that we are still marketing and promotion, we’re actually just looking at it from a more holistic standpoint, and doing a more targeted and better job of bringing the right people at the right time to the community, instead of just sending out marketing messages that says, ‘we’re open for business, come and get us’.

Rodney Payne  45:55

When someone is lucky enough to come to Aspen and experience it, what do you hope they take home with them?

Debbie Braun  46:03

A sense of wonder. Because I think we feel that here so often, that when someone comes into our community, they feel the sense of awe and wonder. And they can take a deep breath and smell the fresh air and reset themselves before they head back to their own lives. So it’s kind of an escape, to just see the wonder of Aspen and really to enjoy, hopefully, your family, your friends, the outdoors, the arts and cultural scene. And it just gives you a sense of appreciation when you go back to your own home.

Rodney Payne  46:42

It’s the perfect note to end on. I hope that everyone gets to come here and experience that because it’s been, even though we’ve been very busy, it’s been really lovely to come and experience that ourselves. And that sense of wonder is everywhere. Thank you for having us here. And thank you for sitting down and talking to me.

Debbie Braun  46:58

Well thanks, Rodney, and thank you so much for being here.

David Archer  47:03

This has been Travel Beyond presented by Destination Think. This season of the podcast is sponsored by Aspen Chamber Resort Association. You can find previous episodes of Travel Beyond and more information about this one at My co-host is Rodney Payne. This episode has been produced and as theme music composed by me, David Archer. Danny Gariepy recorded this season’s interviews with Rodney on site in Aspen, Colorado. Sara Raymond is co-producer, Lindsay Payne, Annika Rautiola, Katie Shriner and Kaylee Wallis provided production support. And you can help more people find the show by subscribing to future episodes, and by leaving a rating and review on Spotify or Apple podcasts. Next episode is about housing, and we’ll speak with Gail Schwartz, former Colorado State Senator and current president of Habitat for Humanity in the Roaring Fork Valley. 

Gail Schwartz  47:55

Habitat is just part of the solution, but when we are short 5000 homes to adequately house our workforce, it’s a big question: How do we get there? 

David Archer  48:07

See you then.


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