Former climber seeks peak performance for industry

Luis Benitez
Luis Benitez

Phil Castle, The Business Times

If Luis Benitez has learned anything about peak performance, it’s that it takes tenacity to reach the top, and the process is somethings as important as the end result.

While there are differences between climbing mountains and promoting an industry, Benitez says the lessons he learned from one of his old jobs apply to his new job as the first ever director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed Benitez to the new position and office in June, following the lead of other states that have established similar offices.

Benitez says he’s since been on what he calls a “listening tour” in meeting with industry representatives and local officials across the Colorado. Benitez came to Grand Junction to meet with members of a newly formed coalition promoting the outdoor recreation industry in the Grand Valley. 

Such group efforts are essential, Benitez says, in increasing awareness of the importance of the outdoor recreation industry and developing a unified plan for marketing an area. “You have to figure out how you tell your story.”

Benitez brings to his latest role a variety of experiences in the outdoor recreation industry.

A former mountaineer and guide, Benitez has scaled some of the highest summits in the world — including no less than six expeditions to the top of Mount Everest. the highest summit of all at more than 29,000 feet.

Benitez also worked for Vail Resorts in talent management and leadership development, operated a consulting group   and served as director of Outward Bound Professional for the Colorado Outward Bound School. In addition, he served on the Eagle Town Council and was involved in efforts to extend mountain bike and commuter trail systems and develop a whitewater park.

As director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, Benitez says his role is to collaborate with and help coordinate efforts to grow the sector, but also serve as a spokesman.

The industry is an important one in Colorado, he says. By one estimate, the sector accounts for 300,000 direct jobs and contributes $4.2 billion in wages and salaries. “It’s a serious economic engine in Colorado.”

The industry also is diverse, he says, in including everything from outdoor equipment and clothing manufacturers to ski resorts to fishing and rafting outfitters.

Benitez says he sees several key components to efforts to promote the outdoor recreation industry, including economic development in starting and growing businesses, conservation and stewardship of outdoor resources and the environment and educating people to work for and lead businesses.

Benitez also says he’s heard “loud and clear” from the people with which he’s talked across the state about the importance of continued access to public lands for recreational and commercial activities.

While Colorado long could sell itself to people who wanted to come to the state for skiing, fishing, hunting and other recreational pursuits, Benitez says the marketplace has become increasingly competitive as other states promote themselves. Consequently, a more concerted push is needed to increase awareness of the Colorado brand.

The grassroots efforts of such local groups as the newly formed Grand Valley Outdoor Recreation Coalition will help, Benitez says.

Local groups can promote the importance of outdoor recreation businesses and convince local officials to invest funding in growing the sector, he says.

Moreover, local groups can develop a unified approach to marketing outdoor attractions and activities. “You have to figure out how you tell your story.”

Although Benitez describes his own position as an office of one with a budget of none, he says other state resources are available and encouraged the coalition to seek out that assistance.

Like climbing mountains, promoting the outdoor recreation industry requires tenacity, Benitez says. And the effort doesn’t always result in immediate success.

But there benefits to be enjoyed along the way — and lessons to be learned from the process.