How Estes Park’s Athlete in Residence Program Promoted Re-opening and Safe Tourism
In 2019 and 2020, Backbone’s media team partnered with Inkwell Media to create Visit Estes Park‘s Athlete in Residence (AiR) program. The stories that emerged from this program inspired millions of outdoor enthusiasts, set the standard for how to adventure responsibly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and showcased Estes Park as the leading destination to escape to during troubled times.
2020 marked the third installment of the Athlete in Residence program built in partnership with Turner PR, which was launched as a way to take the influencer marketing concept a step further. The athletes engaged with the local community and forged meaningful, long-lasting relationships with the destination.
The program featured athletes traveling to Estes Park, experiencing the town, and engaging with the diverse surroundings. By demonstrating safe travel in real time through Facebook and Instagram stories, the campaign showcased what it was like to experience Estes park during the unique circumstances of spring and summer 2020.
The athletes selected for the Athlete in Residence program were identified by their passion for connecting with communities, unique story-telling perspectives and engaged followers. Each athlete excels at her respective sport on an elite level yet demonstrates an open and welcoming personality to resonate with anyone who has a general interest in the outdoors.
An Estes Park native, Paige is one of the world’s best sport climbers, a filmmaker, and founder of Southern Africa Education Fund. Her stories highlighted how the people and outdoor opportunities of Estes Park shaped her growth as a professional climber.
A Golden, CO resident, Courtney was a science teacher before she took the ultrarunning world by storm with huge wins at races like the Western States Endurance Run and UTMB. This was her first time exploring Estes Park, and she was excited to show “how you do trail” during a pandemic. Courtney’s audience fed off her stoke for backyard adventure, generating a 14% engagement rates on her content. Her posts and stories helped shine a light on local trails — and highlighted the disproportionally large number of candy stores in Estes Park.
Caroline is a professional athlete and activist who returned to Estes Park for her second residency. She tells the story of how Estes Park is a place for her to heal and come together with friends safely on public lands. Caroline was joined by her husband, Rob Lea. Together they ventured out for their first road trip from Salt Lake City to Estes Park as COVID-19 restrictions were eased.
Estes Park is traditionally one of the most popular tourism destinations in Colorado for summer travel. However, the 2020 summer kicked off with stay-at-home orders, travel lockdowns and continual restrictions on travel to mountain communities statewide. Once those restrictions were lifted, Estes Park wanted to welcome visitors back while also promoting safe and responsible travel practices.
While Estes Park is surrounded by hundreds of miles of national park, national forest and wilderness land, popular areas of the destination can easily become overcrowded. This puts a strain on park and natural resources and poses a high risk for spread of the coronavirus. A key component of the Athlete in Residence program was to feature activities and locations that were off the beaten path.
Authentic and Welcoming
Estes Park leveraged the Athlete in Residence program to connect with core communities, showcasing the destination as an authentic adventure hub for a variety of outdoor sports. While connecting with core climbing, ultra-running, ski-mountaineering, and mountain biking communities, Estes Park featured a welcoming message, positioning the athletes as an inspiration for visitors of all skill and ability levels, and Estes Park as a basecamp for all, from first-time hikers to the most elite athletes.
During the time athletes were featured, Estes Park–related search terms saw a 33% increase over previous months. Visit Estes Park overall web traffic saw a 5% increase over the same time period in 2019.
Another goal of the project was to create featured video content for Estes Park to leverage in their current and future marketing campaigns. With Inkwell Media, video concepts were planned and scripted before the athlete’s arrival. Film crews met up with athletes for various parts of their stay to create evergreen brand content.
The “hero” video is featured across Hulu, Social, Outside Magazine Online, YouTube and more in coming months.