Sustainable Vail: Destination Stewardship Plan to provide a roadmap for Vail’s future

Mia Vlaar

For the last year, the town of Vail and six key community partners including US Forest Service, Vail Resorts, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Vail Recreation District, Holy Cross Energy and Walking Mountain Science Center have come together in the Steward Vail planning process . The goal of Steward Vail is to create a 10-year vision and destination stewardship plan that will be used to balance community priorities and the environment while supporting a thriving economy.

The town of Vail is committed to this process because we’ve reached a critical juncture. Amid a global pandemic, when many destinations across the globe were seeing significant drops in visitation levels, Vail continued to see record-breaking numbers of visitors. This surge in visitation puts pressure on natural resources and infrastructure, amplifying issues related to workforce and housing, and resulting in a need to mitigate impacts on Vail’s trails, waterways and wildlife.

The goal of the Steward Vail process is:

  • To manage the growth of our tourism economy
  • Protect our way of life and the natural environment that we all love
  • Maintain a world-class experience for our visitors and residents

To guide the town and its community partners through this process, the town of Vail hired a consortium of tourism consulting organizations, led by Better Destinations in partnership with MMGY NextFactor. As part of the project, the Travel Foundation, an international NGO focused on improving impacts of tourism, led sustainability analysis to evaluate Vail’s progress and identify areas for future attention.

The planning process is drawing insights from consumer and visitor surveys as well as extensive engagement with more than 1,100 community members, including in-depth interviews, focus groups, and three sets of public engagement sessions. The outcomes are provided Vail with a roadmap for its future.

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Now in its final stages prior to Town Council consideration, the Steward Vail plan is coming together around a framework of five key strategic pillars:

  • Be Better Together: Embrace local, regional and public-private partnerships to solve community collaboration challenges and capitalize on opportunities.
  • Enhance Vail’s World-Class Experience: Foster memorable experiences and positive interactions through industry-leading approaches that serve both visitors and the community.
  • Invigorate Vail’s Spirit: Tap into Vail’s creativity and innovation to foster a strong sense of community.
  • Advance Vail Stewardship as a Global Model: Show and uphold Vail’s commitment to environmental stewardship, lead local community action, and be an inspirational example for others worldwide.
  • Energize Vail’s Brand as the Premier Sustainable Mountain Resort: Realign Vail marketing to reflect shared community values ​​and amplify its standing as a sustainable destination.

Additional findings range from the resident crisis housing to regional collaboration in Eagle County along with parking pressures, environmental threats, development of the next generation of leaders in the community and much more.

An update on the Steward Vail planning process was presented to the Vail Town Council in September with pillars and strategic initiatives receiving community feedback during public engagement sessions in October. The plan is currently being finalized and will be presented to the Vail Town Council beginning Dec. 6 for comment and ultimately a vote in early 2023 to adopt the roadmap.

Over the last year, it’s been exciting to see the hundreds of individuals who gave of their time to provide feedback and comments and engage in such a thoughtful process that will help guide Vail’s future. The community involvement will continue once the plan is adopted and elements are executed. We look forward to working collectively with our partners and the community to make the vision of the Destination Stewardship Plan a reality.

Mia Vlaar is the economic development director for the town of Vail. The Discover Vail monthly sustainability column is a project of the Vail Local Marketing District Advisory Council.