Survey respondents big on Breckenridge, crowding a concern for residents |

Survey respondents big on Breckenridge, crowding a concern for residents

Travis Beck, a board member for the Breckenridge Tourism Office, watches as the BTO offers a slideshow presentation featuring the results of its 2016-17 Breckenridge Expectations Survey on Thursday at the Speakeasy Movie Theatre in Breckenridge.
Eli Pace /

Crowding was on many people’s minds as they took the Breckenridge Expectations Survey, but the biggest take away from the latest efforts to gauge public perceptions, spearheaded by the Breckenridge Tourism Office, is that most people are still pretty keen on the small mountain town.

A rough draft of the survey results came to Breckenridge Town Council in March, and they were again the topic of discussion Thursday morning inside the Speakeasy Movie Theatre during a public presentation.

The new survey was designed to gauge a variety of public perceptions and focused exclusively on three main areas — overcrowding; parking, transit and housing; and the Breckenridge experience. Creating different slices of data, respondents were segmented into one of five groups — residents, business owners, second-home owners, employees and accommodation owners.

While most of the survey results weren’t all that surprising, said BTO president Lucy Kay during a Wednesday interview ahead of the public presentation, they could be invaluable as the town looks to manage growth and BTO continues to promote the Breckenridge brand.

eye of the beholder

The survey results regarding questions about crowding landed largely along two lines of thinking with accommodation owners and second-home owners registering similar feelings about crowding, while the perceptions of residents, employees and business owners tended to trend together.

The second-home owners and accommodation owners typically had the most positive survey responses, according to the BTO. Not all that surprising, employees, residents and business owners “were most sensitive to crowding and provided lower overall ratings.”

Questions of crowding

To establish some benchmarks for what crowding actually is, the BTO took traffic counts and paid parking receipts on their lowest day of the year, which came in May.

“That is probably understated,” said Brett Howard, the BTO’s marketing director. “We know a lot of people are out of town in May, but it was a good benchmark for us to at least start on.”

Then the BTO compared the slowest day to the town’s top 40 busiest days of the year to frame a general idea of what crowding in Breckenridge looks like. Howard sought to determine if people felt like Breckenridge was overcrowded.

“And with this question came additional questions,” Howard added, explaining the survey aimed to dive much deeper into perceptions about crowding than simply asking if the town seems like it’s too busy.

“It’s interesting when you look back and say, ‘OK, are we overcrowded?’ and you see all these people saying, ‘Yes,’” he said in highlighting one of the survey’s follow-up questions about crowding. “Well, how many days?”

Howard said officials at the BTO had “always assumed” most people felt like Breckenridge was at capacity around 25-30 days a year. With this survey, however, they now believe that’s probably in the range of 30-40 days.

One interesting caveat, however, was an overwhelmingly positive response regarding the many special events in Breckenridge, which obviously drive some of that traffic. As a result, the BTO has determined that crowding can mean different things to different people, whether it’s being stuck in traffic, waiting in line at a grocery store or trying to grab a ski lift.

The survey also identified Breckenridge residents by the neighborhoods in which they live and how long they’ve been here, but the number of responses per neighborhood was too small to make any determinations about perceptions in specific areas of town, Kay said. Still, the survey found a correlation between how long someone’s lived here and feeling the town is becoming too crowded, she added.

More tidbits

Another survey finding included most respondents rating the overall direction of the town as positive.

This is an important piece of the survey, according to the BTO, because despite some of the negativity around overcrowding, the overall sentiment in town remained positive.

Additionally, after being asked to rank downtown Breckenridge’s most important attributes, all five segments put the “home feel and the friendly atmosphere” as the most important attributes.

Another survey question asked people if they were aware of the parking and transit improvements undertaken by the town. The vast majority said they were, and over 90 percent of employees and residents reported feeling like they’re in the know.

The survey also sought to find out if those improvements — or changes — were making the situation better, worse or no different. On a high note, over half the survey respondents said they felt like conditions were getting better or no worse with the changes.

Residents and accommodation owners recorded the highest percentages for those who felt like the parking and transit situation is getting worse, with one-fourth of each segment saying they feel the town’s changes are contributing to the problem.

A wealth of data

The number of responses was mind-blowing, according to Kay and Howard. According to the BTO, the results presented Thursday came from 1,059 responses, including 256 residents, or those with Breckenridge post office boxes, in addition to 385 employees, 236 second-home owners, 88 business owners and 94 accommodation owners.

Additionally, the survey is still open for people to take, and the number of respondents reached 1,189 as of Tuesday.

In fact, the BTO has pulled so much data from the survey that the BTO produced over 100 potential slides for Thursday’s presentation before whittling it down to just over a dozen, Howard said.

Howard noted that representatives of the third-party company contracted to do the survey actually told him they had never seen such detail in a survey’s comments section and even joked that Breckenridge has some of the best spellers.

A controlled release

During Thursday’s presentation, questions among the audience were encouraged, and one man asked if all the slides Howard referenced, not just the 15 shown on Thursday, would be made public.

Howard responded that they’re trying to get as much of the information out as possible, but he said he hesitates to release all the slides out of fear that pieces of the data “could be taken out of context” and give a false impression that’s contradictory to the overall survey results. Instead, Howard offered to go over the data in detail with anyone who would like to set up a meeting at the BTO.

Words in the cloud

“I think that nearly everyone that filled this (survey) out filled out a comment, so we did these word clouds to get an idea of what would those words look like,” Howard said in reference to a collage of words of differing sizes corresponding to how often that word came up in the survey comments.

Parking, town, traffic, people and restaurants were some of most common language, but grocery was another common word associated with the survey.

Even though grocery stores are technically outside the town’s purview, Kay said, the BTO is hoping the survey will help identify specific issues that, if solved, could relieve some of the stress that’s leading to the most negative opinions.

What’s Next?

Nearing the end of Thursday’s presentation, Howard talked about the next steps for the BTO and for the town.

The BTO, he said, is in the process of crafting a new destination plan in conjunction with the town’s 2040 Vision, a study that’s designed to forecast what Breckenridge could look like 20 years from now and help the town better manage that growth.

The BTO also aims to increase community communication, specifically on topics like eventual build out in Breckenridge, while diving much deeper with more research into topics not covered in the survey.

Kay said the BTO plans to perform the survey again, and combined with similar surveys down the road, perhaps once every two years, could provide a great tool for tracking how different people’s perceptions of Breckenridge are improving or declining over time as the town tries to manage growth.

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