Can Sustainability and Travel Coexist?

Colorado companies work to make the connection and build a lasting tourism economy – at home and afar

Last month, I looked at how Colorado tourism businesses are fueling the trend of traveling for experiences, rather than merely to bring back souvenirs or enjoy lazy days of lounging. Digging a bit deeper, this month I'm taking a look at how tourism is wedded to an even more vital trend: living and traveling sustainably.

Sustainable travel is good for the environment.

It’s also good economics.

Sustainability has direct financial value – think of the recent can-recycling campaign, pushed by waste management agencies and local breweries in the face of new aluminum tariffs. Part of sustainability’s economic benefit is indirect. In the West, our public lands are a bigger tourism draw than sports or cultural attractions – to the tune of nearly $900 billion nationally each year.

A recent study documented the importance of sustainability practices on travelers’ decisions about where to vacation. Strategic Marketing and Research Insights found 43 percent of travelers said sustainability was important in their selection of a destination, with 12 percent of those describing it as very important. 

My company works with public entities and organizations that operate in tourism and real estate to articulate their values around sustainability. We also convey how offsetting impacts and choosing sustainable options can have a ripple effect on businesses’ long-term viability.

Here are some trendsetters in doing sustainability right, in and around the state.


Our destinations consistently rank as some of the nation’s most popular. Yet all that travel can leave an environmental mark. Some experts go so far as to suggest that people stop traveling to protect the environment. But for most of us, eliminating travel is neither practical nor desirable.

Taking a different approach, last fall the Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) and the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics announced a partnership to encourage visitors to travel like locals and protect our natural resources. The campaign includes inexpensive reference cards that groups or destinations can share to provide tips on how to visit various environments without harm.

From ecotourism to carbon offsets, leave-no-trace travel is what some of the most successful tourism companies advise.

Wade Martin, co-president of POWDR, which operates Copper Mountain and Eldora Mountain Resort, puts it eloquently:

“The soul of adventure depends on the health of our planet.”



Relishing every moment of a journey is easy to do here. The CTO even offers Colorado Roots, a downloadable guide and app that puts the best of local and historic sites at travelers’ fingertips.

Those roots, as in many cultures, include food, drink and agriculture. Across the state, agritourism is a seasoned – and growing – tradition, reaching back to the first dude ranches and u-pick orchards. Today, Boulder has been called the nation’s foodiest town, craft beer brews up a $3 billion industry and back-to-the-earth tourism is more popular than ever.


Visitors to Colorado’s Grand Valley can visit orchards, lavender fields and alpaca farms, sampling their wares and learning about the varied products they make. Independent ski resort Powderhorn, near Mesa on the Western Slope, offers wine country lodging packages so visitors can enjoy summer bike trails and a glass of local vino at the end of the day. And in Carbondale, one of Colorado’s 21 Creative Districts, guests can book luxurious on-site lodging at Marble Distilling – a zero-waste distillery.


Savoring what’s around us doesn’t happen just at home. Boulder-based Natural Habitat Adventures was the world’s first carbon-neutral travel company 10 years ago. And Kirsten Louy Nasty, co-owner and CEO of Asia Transpacific Journeys, says her company’s Colorado base inspires its belief that travel and sustainability can mesh.

“As Asia's infrastructure and access to unique and more remote experiences open up to us, we are finding that our travelers really want to get out to unique and non-traditional areas of our destinations,” Louy Nasty says. “[In Cambodia,] we now have access to …  a unique 'permitted only' area of the Angkor Wat complex. And better yet, this is a conservation area, providing a giving-back approach to the local economy, employment opportunities, support for the local environment and training and education.”


Some people come to visit; others come to stay. It's no secret that our booming economy has put affordable housing at a premium. Housing challenges affect year-round residents who staff resorts and other destinations.

Fortunately, bright minds statewide are hard at work to develop solutions.

In the Town of Silverthorne, for example, the new Smith Ranch Neighborhood will feature about 200 homes for people who earn 80 percent to 140 percent of the area median income (AMI). The project, which opened applications in July, seeks a compromise between appreciating open spaces and providing opportunity for those who live and work in the community. This property will house community residents, which may include moderate-income earners like teachers, health-care employees, and emergency personnel – making it possible for people who serve visitors and locals to remain in the area. 

Smith Ranch Neighborhood isn’t alone. Telluride, Aspen and Vail have developed innovative seasonal worker housing, including a tiny-house neighborhood at a former KOA campground that Aspen Skiing Co. purchased in Basalt. Breckenridge and Vail have extensive affordable housing programs, too.

These trends add up to one enduring goal: keeping our tourist destinations strong, including for the people who live there year-round. And that’s a purpose everyone can appreciate.

Ashley Lowe, founder and principal of Betty Ashley Public Relations, leads a team of experts with 50 years of travel, economic development and real estate experience, half of that on the client’s side of the desk. The agency’s strength is putting “destination underdogs” on the map. Betty Ashley PR received the 2017 Colorado Governor’s Award for Outstanding Marketing Program for its work with the Town of Silverthorne. For more information, visit or email

Categories: Economy/Politics