Estes Park: a Resort with an Inferiority Complex

As you probably know if you’ve been here before, I’m a member of the BrandingWire posse, one of twelve branding bloggers who monthly tackle a common branding subject.

This month that subject is branding a resort destination, specifically, Estes Park Colorado. You’ll find a branding brief we all worked from at

Estes Park has an inferiority complex.

Situated at the east entrances of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Estes Park appears to want to be known for that and nothing more. It’s image is subservient to RMNP and it accepts that role. On the official website, there are great photos of RMNP, but not one good photo of the town itself.

Estes Park logo

Residents of the area apologize for the town’s gift and souvenir shops and the congestion of its main street. And although everyone knows taxes are reasonable only because of the tourist traffic, most of the better educated, retired segment of the community would rather there be no expansion or the hurly burly of a summer tourist season.

Even the long-standing tagline is deflective: “Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park”. (You go through a gateway, you don’t spend a week there.)

As stated in the branding brief, Estes Park requires a larger tax base and cash flow to maintain traditional town services and to promote Estes Park as a desirable place to vacation.

The Town of Estes Park itself is responsible for funding and managing promotional activities, and they certainly are doing a great job in distributing literature to anyone who asks. They also run several modest ad campaigns as well. The town just completed a new convention and visitors center, a concert venue and a new website – They are instigating shuttle buses to get visitors from the motel areas into downtown this summer.

In order to achieve their financial goals, I suggest FOCUS.

An unfocused Brand Is Confusing

And Confused Prospects Don’t Become Customers.

I believe the solution is market segmentation.

There are several market segments to choose from, and several that need minimum “maintenance”. The day-trippers and RV nomads will come through as they have ever since the automobile became common. The small group of summer residents with second homes in the Estes valley, and families who habitually rent cabins by the week, will continue to come.

Scenes of Estes Park and RMNP 

I suggest focusing on two specialized groups: conference and meeting organizers and tour organizers. Though both segments are very competitive, Estes Park can be differentiated to appeal to these organizers and their clientele. There are two advantages for Estes Park: 1) extending the season into the fall and spring, and 2) welcoming people predisposed to spending money – some expense account derived – over a three-five day period.

It Takes a Village 

I’d work with facilities – the YMCA of the Rockies, The Stanley Hotel, the more up-scale restaurants and motels – to provide the infrastructure for such groups. I’d make sure there was entertainment and activities available for non-meeting times, even during off-season. I’d encourage attendees to spend by offering coupons and discounts for attractions.

But most of all, I’d want the stakeholders of the town, residents and merchants alike, to buy in. In other words, do an internal branding program. Help make each stakeholder an ambassador and evangelist to visitors.

The Brand, Estes Park, starts with the scenery and wildlife, and continues through the activities and events people experience. But the thing that will encourage folks to return to Estes with their families, and to talk up their Estes Park experience to others back home, is the overall feeling that they were welcome and that the people of Estes Park wanted them to return. That emanates from gracious and hospitable people whose honest desire is to help visitors enjoy their experience.

Also, for all market segments, I’d attempt to change the way Estes is thought of as a place to stop for a night or two and then venture on. I’d want to implant the idea that Estes Park is the only place you need to go to enjoy a vacation of a lifetime. That Estes provides all the activities and events that any and all family members will find enjoyable and memorable.

Think of Estes Park as a Destination Instead of a Gateway

So instead of branding Estes Park as “The Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park”, I’d go with the idea of “Awesome in So Many Ways”, or “Estes Park: It’s a Happening”. Then I’d make sure the Estes Park website and promotional literature reflected the variety of an Estes Park experience.

As it now stands, the website is static. I’d place plenty of videos on it. Panorama sweeps, wildlife sequences, downtown walk-abouts, concert and horse show performances. I’d show people enjoying Indian crafts, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, snow-shoeing, golfing. I’d do views from the aerial tramway.

I’d video kids splashing in a pool, riding a train, playing miniature golf, etc., etc.. Also, I’d set aside a section of the website for travel agents and tour organizers, together with programs to get them to do tours TO Estes. I’d have another web section for meeting and conference planners.

Then I’d hire a staff to coordinate these activities.

These suggestions do mean synchronizing and focusing the town’s thinking. Instead of attempting to be everything for everyone, in means singling out certain lucrative market segments and concentrating efforts there. And those efforts mean not only promotional materials and tactics. It starts with the mindset of the town’s influentials, then spreading that evangelistic message to every resident, every merchant, every tour and meeting organizer, every travel agent. And finally, by demonstrating the message to visitors, you allow them to carry the message back home: “Estes Park is the only place you need to go to experience a vacation you’ll remember forever”.

Estes Park: Focus and follow through. Focus and fulfill your promise to visitors. Focus and thrive.

Now that you’ve read my blog, you can read what the other posse members have to say about branding Estes Park. Just go to, or look up individual blogs from the BrandingWire listing in the right column.

Martin Jelsema


9 thoughts on “Estes Park: a Resort with an Inferiority Complex

  1. Martin,

    “Estes Park has an inferiority complex.” Great eye for the primary problem. Before Seattle reinvented itself and became both a great city in which to live and an internationally known destination, it had to elevate the way it thought about itself. That began in the early ’80s with the city’s leadership, and in less than a decade, Seattle found itself on the covers of magazines around the world. Estes Park needs to get over its negative thinking and create a community that is excited about itself and wants to show itself off to the world. The passion has to begin within the community.

  2. Starting a branding effort from the inside means you are then poised to become much more focused in your external communications. You touch upon an important point here — own your brand first. Then everyone can move onto narrating the experience of Estes Park for the benefit of the community and of destination guests.

  3. Martin,
    Your phrase about Estes Park having an inferiority complex is so very true! That became evident through this exercise. They have so much to offer, but seem to hold back on show it off.

  4. So right about the inferiority complex … it seems to permeate all materials. Only by being proud of your own brand can you take the steps required to convince others of its worth.

  5. Maybe the way to sell it to residents is that you want to make Estes Park better, not necessarily bigger. And to do that you need their help.

    In addition to the comments above, I’ll note that the Destination vs. Gateway is an excellent point!

  6. I’d have to agree with you on most of your comments. But I’d have to say, there are a lot of good pieces of information overlooked. I took my family there for the fall Elk migration. We had a wonderful stay, ONLY because we found the right accomodations in a Rocky Mountain Vacation Rentals Estes Park Colorado We are a big family, so staying under one roof was key, and this site helped us with our whole experience. Hope this helps your audience. Thanks!

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