Georgia Strickfaden of Atomic City Tours offers her thoughts on the strategic tourism plan. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com
Just how does Los Alamos make itself a tourist destination? County Council got a peek at the plan to bring in visitors and bolster the local tourism economy during its regular meeting Tuesday, Dec. 19 in Council Chambers.
Becky Zimmerman of Design Workshop unveiled the draft tourism strategic plan to council. Zimmerman just made a presentation, council may consider adoption of the plan during its regular meeting Jan. 30. Although a work session could be scheduled prior to the plan’s adoption.
In her presentation, Zimmerman touched on several focus areas in the plan:
- Create and market an inviting community;
- Increase the capture of visitors’ dollars;
- Enrich the natural beauty, attractions and downtown; and
- Operate with intentional leadership, public and private and partnerships.
Work on the strategic plan started in June when the tourism work group formed. This was followed by a public forum in September, a council worksession in October and a second public forum in November.
“It’s been delightful to have the opportunity to work on this plan, to work with the community … it’s been great and we’ve learned a lot and hopefully we have created for you a wonderful toolbox to help move you in the future for developing tourism,” Zimmerman said.
To successfully realize these focus areas in the toolbox, there are a number of recommendations to effectively market Los Alamos:
- Focus on marketing science, history and outdoor recreation;
- Improve web and social media presence;
- Enhance regional marketing efforts; and
- Coordinate local marketing efforts.
To make a good first impression and make Los Alamos visitor-friendly:
- Improve visitor centers and Fuller Lodge;
- Enhance the County’s role as a gateway to three national parks; and
- Enhance all mobility options.
To improve lodging and hospitality infrastructure, products and services:
- Increase lodging options; and
- Improve hospitality by providing industry training.
To encourage people to plan overnight or multi-day stay in Los Alamos:
- Provide support for event marketing and hosting;
- Offer events that promote science and Los Alamos National Laboratory;
- Provide outdoor recreation events;
- Offer history and cultural events; and
- Create facilities that serve the community and encourage overnight stays.
To enhance Los Alamos’ offerings to visitors and residents:
- To invest in capital improvements that benefit both residents and visitors;
- Expand recreational offerings;
- Make downtown areas in Los Alamos and White Rock aesthetically pleasing and welcoming to visitors;
- Improve commercial areas’ appearances;
- Maximize MainStreet and Creative District opportunities; and
- Expand eating and shopping areas.
To manage potential impacts of tourism to retain the community’s quality of life:
- Proactively develop plans to mitigate impacts.
To cultivate strategic partnerships to ensure operational success:
- Invest time and funding in relationships at the local level; and
- Collaborate with regional and national organizations.
To efficiently implement tourism efforts:
- Create a County Tourism Department and increase staffing;
- Redirect funding sources and seek grants;
- Support centralized visitor contact; and
- Modify or create policies and governing agencies.
Finally, to secure and optimize public and private funding based on strategic criteria:
- Tie budgets to goals that can be measured; and
- Grow funding from a variety of sources.
Councilor Antonio Maggiore pointed out that one thing he did not see in these suggestions was how the County could successfully shift the mindset of those citizens who want Los Alamos to be a secret.
“How do we really change the mindset of the community to make it more in favor of tourism,” he asked.
As an example, Zimmerman pointed out that in Breckenridge, Colo., there is a real estate transfer fee. She explained every time a home changes title, there is couple of percentage of funds that the buyer pays that goes to Breckenridge. She explained the town has used those funds to restore its river, construct a recreation center and build a performing arts center.
“The point is that just the town, the municipality, has really worked hard to make it clear that there are amazing things that have happened in town because of visitors,” Zimmerman said, adding that residents feel that tourism is their genie.
Council Vice Chair Susan O’Leary commented that of those who took the comprehensive plan survey, 85 percent supported tourism. While she recognized some are reluctant to pursue tourism, there is strong support for building the industry.
Council Chair David Izraelevitz reminded everyone while it is good to build the town’s tourism industry to improve the community’s quality of life, tourism will never be the primary economic driver. That will remain with the laboratory, he said.
“We’re not going to be a tourism-centric community,” he said. He wondered if the plan could look at or consider communities similar to Los Alamos or towns that balance having one major industry with tourism.
During public comment, Georgia Strickfaden said she has been in the tourism business for 32 years. She recalled when she started her Atomic City Tours business, people thought she was crazy. She explained she was working at the visitor center and people would come in and ask where the town was so she decided to load them up into a car and show them.
Strickfaden said visitors have always been in Los Alamos; the goal is to enhance that existing industry and make it have more of an economic impact. The industry will never rival the laboratory but there is an opportunity to capitalize on what Los Alamos already has, she said.
Denny Erickson supported the plan and its strategic goals. “The most important thing that has been offered … are those four priorities. Those are the right things … those are the things to work on,” he said.
“Tourists are coming here and they are coming here in increasing numbers … do we want to build on that and for me, the answer is yes,” Erickson said,
Sue Barnes said she felt it needed to put preserving and protecting the environment in the forefront. She pointed out that outdoor recreation is already a big focus and the hope is to attract people who value the environment.
Councilor Chris Chandler questioned whether the plan needed more discussion. She said she agreed this is an important project and an important goal. Having guests come to Los Alamos adds to the vibrancy of the community as well as its wellbeing and quality of life, Chandler said. However, she wondered if there needed to be more opportunities for the community to weigh in on the strategic plan.
“I support the goal; I like the plan in general but I think we need a full airing and discussion of it,” Chandler said.
O’Leary said she would be open to having a worksession. She said with this type of economic develop it is very clear the benefits will go to the citizens. Not only will it provide jobs but also add to quality of life, O’Leary said. She added the strategic plan offers new ways to think about how to use money and how to better leverage what tourism dollars the town has already.
“We should do it right,” O’Leary said.
Denny Erickson discusses the tourism strategic plan. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com