Straight Talk: Luis Benitez

Photo by Didrik Johnck

Luis Benitez is in the process of transforming Colorado’s outdoor tourism industry, one town at a time. Appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in June, Benitez is the very first director of Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. His résumé is certainly right for the job: A longtime Colorado resident and an accomplished outdoorsman, Benitez served on the Town of Eagle Board of Trustees and has climbed the Seven Summits (the tallest peaks on all seven continents), including six climbs on Mt. Everest. When he was appointed, Benitez promised to take Colorado’s outdoor tourism to the next level. He sat down to tell us just how he plans to do it.

How will your position affect Colorado tourism?

My hope is that my role will help enhance tourism in a few very specific ways. For starters, when people come to Colorado they typically include some type of outdoor endeavor as a part of their stay. My job is to continue to help tell the stories that connect those endeavor-based opportunities with our guests to the state. I think visitors know a few key industries like skiing or rafting, but we have so many other opportunities, from stand-up paddleboarding to fly fishing to hunting to motorized sports … the list goes on and on. Our goal is to keep providing those transformative experiences that keep people coming back for more.

What are your long-term goals as director?

I have four. Number one is economic development. Understand who is here and who isn’t here. If we can help companies move here or existing companies that are growing relocate within the state, that plays a huge part in the health and viability of the industry. Also, try to help companies that may be struggling. Ensure that people remain connected to this amazing community the outdoor industry offers within Colorado. Sometimes this help comes in the shape of fiscal aid with tax credits or incentives, sometimes it’s simply ensuring that people are connecting to those best positioned to help. I believe this should apply to for-profit and non-profit companies alike.

Number two, conservation and stewardship. We have to take care of the product that allows us to have viable businesses and lands to recreate on. I truly believe there is a better way to allow access to our federal lands. Colorado has access that is unmatched in most other states for individuals, but, when it comes to trying to start an outfitter and/or potentially a wilderness education school, or a mountain bike guide service, basically anything that requires permitting, it’s incredibly hard. My goal is to help start this conversation for Colorado at a state, and, hopefully, federal level to see if we can have a different conversation about access.

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Photo by Luis Benitez

Third is education. As I mentioned before, we have a Ski Area Management degree here in Colorado. What about a Trail Building Degree? Advanced Sewing for Outdoor Apparel? Advanced Manufacturing? The possibilities are limitless. This also ties into what we are doing for the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts. We have to understand the legacy we are leaving and the support structure we are creating to empower the next generation with the great ideas to rise up and thrive. We need to focus on the demographics of our state, and the power that holds.

And fourth is what I call “Industry Anchors.” These are some of the things that anchor industry sectors in our state. We have the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, among other amazing companies whose headquarters are here. How can we impact those that are here and thinking about coming here? Not to mention industry trade shows, and large events like the GoPro Mountain Games. Colorado is a nexus for disruptive innovation within the outdoor industry, I want to ensure that stays anchored here in Colorado for decades to come.

What does success in one-year look like to you, and how will you measure it?

If in a year, the outdoor industry is thriving, if companies are moving here for quality of life and access to the outdoor industry community, if the next generation is getting both the access they deserve to the outdoors and potentially the education they desire to work in our industry, then it would be a good year. I suspect some of these things will take more time, but I’ve always believed that to truly succeed, you need to look beyond what you perceive is possible.

Where do you like to go to get off the grid?

There is a valley high in the Gore mountain range above Vail where the climbing is good, the alpine lakes are clear and cold, and there is nothing but space. I’ve said too much already…

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