Author Archive

Brand Amp Expands, Welcomes Angela Kuepper

Written by leehart on October 7th, 2011. Posted in Biz Buzz

SALIDA, COLORADO – Brand Amp, founder and president Lee Hart, is pleased to welcome veteran publicist and event manager Angela Kuepper to the company.

From the Pacific Northwest to the Alps, Kuepper has served a plethora of music and arts organizations as well as multiple tourism and outdoor industry businesses. Prior to her career in marketing, Kuepper worked as a linguist researching speech and language communications. Trading in her doctorate degree for a life in the mountains, when she’s not working, Kuepper can be found exploring the backcountry by foot, bike or skis.

Hart said Kuepper came highly recommended from outdoor industry friends and neighbors in this mountain-river town in south central Colorado. “Angela has quickly proven she has a well-deserved reputation for excellence,” Hart said. “Angela brings great energy, intelligence and creativity to everything she does. I feel really lucky to have her join me at Brand Amp.”

Kuepper lives a stone’s throw from the Arkansas River in Buena Vista, CO, with her husband, Bobby, and their three very large dogs.

Dean Cummings Launches Signature Line of All-Terrain Skis

Written by leehart on September 29th, 2011. Posted in Biz Buzz

Valdez, AK – H2o Outdoor Gear has retained Brand Amp to elevate the profile and support sales of Dean Cummings’ new signature line of skis.
The iconic Big Mountain skier and Alaska heli-skiing pioneer, is introducing a trio of skis infused with knowledge gleaned from two decades skiing some of the most innovative lines in the most demanding environments.
Cumming’s new skis feature proprietary Lay-Down Technology, a unique hybrid combination of powder and carving design that eliminates chatter and allows the ski to confidently track in all conditions from powder to hard snow.
Cummings said he is confident his Lay-Down Technology has created “the most forgiving ski for the greatest variety of conditions on the market today.”
The Tazlina, Kodiak and Karen’cito models are available in a choice of three lengths each with a unique and corresponding radius that works to optimize performance. The custom handmade wood core skis, made in the USA, are built to for all environments: Big Mountain, All Mountain, backcountry and resort.

Skiers can see the skis in action this fall in Cummings’ upcoming new film release, “The Steep Life.” Later this fall, Cummings will tour with the film and skis at select backcountry ski retail outposts along the West Coast, East Coast and Rockies. H2oG will also exhibit at two major industry trade shows this January, Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2012 in Salt Lake City and the SIA Snow Sports Show in Denver.
Brand Amp has been retained to manage the tour and provide overall public relations support for Cummings’ launch as a small production specialty ski manufacturer.

Dean Cummings is launching a signature line of all-terrain skis

Dean Cummings is launching a signature line of all-terrain skis

Brand Amp founder and president Lee Hart said Cummings fits with her motto to only work with people she likes and product she believes in. “Dean is a globally recognized name as an athlete and as a leader who continues to pioneer the development of techniques and protocols for Big Mountain, glacier and remote mechanized skiing. These ski designs are manifestations of the innovation and excellence Dean brings on and off the mountain.”
Cummings said he chose to work with Brand Amp because Hart hit the mark in designing a public relations campaign that aligns with the short-term goals and long- range vision of H2oG.
About H2o Outdoor Gear. H2o Outdoor Gear is a brand extension of H2o Guides. H2o Guides is the the family-owned and operated Alaska heliskiing operation founded in 1995 by World Champion extreme skier and former US Freestyle Ski Team member Dean Cummings . Cummings has been laying fresh tracks in the establishment and evolution of globally recognized standards in safety education both as founder of the North American Outdoor Institute and lead architect of the American Mechanized Ski Guide Course. With his new line of skis, Cummings brings cutting-edge concepts in ski design for the world’s most precision-demanding slopes to skiers exploring the boundaries of their own backyard backcountry stashes. For further information visit the H2oG website.
About Brand Amp. Brand Amp offers strategic communications counsel and a range of smart, scalable public relations solutions, including brand-building social media campaigns, to clients primarily in the outdoor adventure, snow sports and adventure travel industries. For further information visit the Brand Amp website .

Organic goodness in the Grenadines

Written by leehart on April 8th, 2009. Posted in Geotourism

This past fall I got to spend three weeks on one of the teensier of the constellation of teensy islands that comprise St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A person of average fitness can bike the hilly island in a day with time to spare before the sun sets. There’s a certain distinctive yet casual rhythm to the day, and the days of the week, that’s easily habit forming; a completely laid-back chill vibe and not much of any tourist hustle. The water was so warm that even a cold-averse wimp like me could just plunge right in. Locals would go to the beach and just bob around in the blissfully warm waves and catch up on the day’s gossip. It was just what I was looking for! No decision bigger than whether to snorkel, swim, walk the beach, trundle over to a different beach, or mix it up and hop a local cooperative van into town.

We stayed in Marie Kingston’s sweet little cottage right at the end of idyllic Lower Bay beach. There aren’t any chain hotels here and I hope there never will be. One of the biggest hotels on the island – at least as of this fall – had little more than a dozen rooms. Lodging prices weren’t too bad, especially since we arrived just before tourism season kicked into swing, but stocking our little cottage with food was a pricey proposition due to the high cost of food transport, since little is grown locally. The sea still supplies sustenance from subsistence fishing. Whaling continues as it has for centuries, the islanders are limited by international covenant to just four per season, still chased and caught by a few brave men in traditional whaling dorys.

So I was psyched when about midway through our visit, Jacqueline’s Nature Zone opened. She had just harvested the first of the season’s veggies and herbs on what must be the prettiest garden plot on the planet, right across the skinny two-lane road from the most delectable beach on the island. Jackie’s business is mostly seasonal, dependent on the annual influx of tourists and yachties. Compared to the Carribbean and Bahamas farther north, this is a sleepy part of the western Atlantic so business is rarely described as brisk. A patient woman, Jackie persists, convinced that demand for her locally grown food will steadily increase. She likes knowing where her food is grown, how the plants are nurtured and that they are free of pesticides. Jackie explained that most of the produce in the grocery stores comes from nearby St. Vincent, where she said farmers still drench their crops with powerful pesticides.

Oddly, the locals don’t think much of Jackie’s garden goodness. One exception is Fernando, whose namesake restaurant has a well-deserved reputation as one of the very best on the island. Fernando at his Hideaway

Usually though, when Jackie offers native-born neighbors a sample, they spit it out.

Nature Zone

With a diet dominated by canned goods, rice and beans, Jackie’s greens and veggies taste too strange to most locals’ palates. On the contrary, I adored everything she grew. Intriguingly, something in the soil added a hot zing to some of the veggies. Not to miss: Jackie’s crazy good ginger basil pesto! I love to cook, and did so aboard charter sailboats for a couple seasons. As most cooks and chefs agree, nothing beats fully ripened, fresh-picked organic produce, so you can trust me when I say Jackie’s produce is worth seeking out.

Once upon a time, the islanders used to grow more of their own food, though it was no easy task on the freshwater scarce island. A local lady told me that when she was a little girl in the ’60’s, folks used to grow, harvest and process cassava. She described to me the ways they used to cook and process the plant using every bit of it for food, starch and more. She also told me how locals used to grow more corn then, and on Guy Fawkes Day they’d put big giant cassava rendering pots in the middle of town, cove the bottoms with sand, place the the pots over a hot fire and have a giant popcorn celebration.

Cassava and corn and small gardens are rare here today. As more and more modern conveniences arrived on the island, local food productions and traditions withered away. Jackie said the locals think she’s crazy for growing her own food. I think she’s brilliant and I hope she’s there next time I go back.

Tourism Queensland’s PR Gambit

Written by leehart on February 23rd, 2009. Posted in Biz Buzz, Geotourism

Measured by traditional standards of return on investment, Tourism Queensland’s Best Job in the World campaign may also turn out to be a case study for future textbooks on marketing in the Web 2.0 era.

The campaign certainly has made lemonade out of the lemons produced as a result of the global economic meltdown that has cost millions of jobs and slowed spending on everything including travel abroad. Despite this reality, or because of it, some 34,000 people from 200 countries around the globe responded to Tourism Queensland’s call for online video applications to be hired as caretaker for one of the islands in the Great Barrier Reef. Some applicants sourced their own media coverage of their application and established websites and blogs dedicated to promoting their application.

According to a Tourism Queensland spokesperson, the $1.8 million campaign has already returned $80 million in publicity and generated more than 2.3 million visits to the campaign website

In creating the campaign, it would seem the creative minds at Cummins Nitro got their hands on an advance copy of David Meerman Scott’s “World Wide Rave” and created the perfect vehicle (a global search for a tantalizing job) to achieve three key hallmarks of a World Wide Rave: when global communities eagerly link to your stuff on the Web; when online buzz drives buyers to your virtual doorstep; and when tons of fans visit your Web site because they genuinely want to be there.

Seems as though the big challenge now is in choosing the caretaker. It seems obvious that one of the imperatives of unleashing a World Wide Rave is accepting the consequences, intentional or unintended, that go along with it. In this case, it seems as though there is a potential for some negative backlash if the members of this particular World Wide Rave sense any hint of marketing mischief in the selection of the lucky caretaker. As Brian Solis recently opined at UGCX, “consumers will smell what’s authentic or not.” And there are already plenty of examples of swift Web 2.0-enabled retribution when consumers think they’ve been wronged or duped.

It will be interesting and instructional to follow this campaign through to its conclusion. And “good on ya” to my mates who’ve entered.

Friends of geotourism: Martha Honey

Written by leehart on February 20th, 2009. Posted in Geotourism

An ecotourism hero I’m proud to have crossed paths with is Martha Honey. Martha started her professional life as an investigative journalist based in Central America and East Africa. As a freelance journalist, Honey reported for such esteemed clients as The Times of London, The Nation, ABC TV and National Public Radio.
Along with her husband Tony Avirgan, Honey had a ground floor, up-close window on some of the most volatile but little understood wars of those regions. She chronicled the CIA’s War in Costa Rica including eyewitness accounts of a botched assassination attempt. Her experiences in Africa led to the essay “Racism, Exploitation and Neglect: Bush and Africa,” which was included in the book “Power Trip: US Unilateralism and Global Strategy After September 11.” She and Avirgan also published a book “War in Uganda: The legacy of Idi Amin.”
Advocacy and investigate journalism seem to go hand in and the travel industry should count its lucky stars that Martha decided to take up the banner of ecotourism. I met Martha just shortly after she had become executive director of The International Ecotourism Society.
During her tenure from 2003 through 2006, TIES took many noteworthy steps including the following:
• Moved its offices to Washington DC
• Conducted the first worldwide study on the social and environmental footprint of nature-based lodges
• Supported relief efforts and advocated for sustainable tourism in Indian Ocean countries devastated by tsunami
• Sponsored the first conference on Ecotourism in the US
• Launched distance learning courses and Sustainable Tourism Certification with George Washington University.
Martha left TIES to form her own ecotourism-focused non-profit called the Center on Ecotourism and Sustainable Development.
In conjunction with Stanford University and the Institute for Policy Studies, the mission of the non-profit CESD is to design, monitor, evaluate, and improve ecotourism and sustainable tourism practices and principles. Its policy-oriented research focuses on ecotourism as a tool for poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation, as well as socially and environmentally responsible tourism practices.
Martha has written and lectured widely on ecotourism, Travelers’ Philanthropy, and certification issues. Her best-known book is the seminal “Ecotourism and Sustainable Development: Who Owns Paradise?” recently updated and re-released by Island Press.

Courage of convictions

Written by leehart on February 3rd, 2009. Posted in Uncategorized

I had the distinct pleasure of introducing Tim DeChristopher to the outdoor industry at the recent Outdoor Retailer Winter Market trade show. DeChristopher is the young man who single-handedly thwarted a BLM oil and gas lease on lands adjacent to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

What drew me to Tim’s story initially was his courage, quick-thinking and willingness to put his own freedom on the line to protect some of Utah’s most scenic wildlands from what appeared to be an improper federal oil and gas lease auction. In introducing him to leaders in the outdoor industry, some of them with activist histories of their own, I was impressed with this 27-year-old colleges student’s poise, intelligence and dedication.

Tim DeChristopher schooled the Bushies

Tim DeChristopher schooled the Bushies

Tim made me think about what it means to have the courage of your convictions. In the days since the OR show, I’ve come to realize that I too have the courage of my convictions. while Tim’s rallying cry is climate change, mine is geotourism. I firmly believe that the principles of geotourism provide the only sane foundation upon which the tourism industry can continue. Contrasted with mass commercial tourism, geotourism focuses on preserving and protecting the very essence of destinations and the natural resources and cultures that define them.

As technological advances shrink the world and make travel to foreign lands and people more accessible it is important to use a tourism model that preserves the unique attributes of a destination. A healthy climate that supports a diversity of plant and animal life is as important to future generations as preserving the unique cultures of the world. How boring the world would be if it were all homogenized. How tragic if we lost not just the unique landscapes of the world but if the undisciplined pursuit of tourism dollars would cause us to lose the myths, stories, crafts, food, music and lifestyle traditions of a place.

On a related note, I find it alarming that UNESCO estimates the rate of language extinction has now reached the unprecedented worldwide level of 10 every year. Some people predict that 50 to 90 per cent of today’s 6,000 spoken languages will disappear during this century. As each language dies, a chapter of human history closes.

Back to my main point . . . though not nearly as severely consequential as what Tim did, last fall I resigned a good-paying contract over the client’s inability to embrace the wisdom of geotourism. As a result, I – and a few of my  like-minded friends – are launching a grass roots, market driven geotourism initiative. Geotourism may be too far out front for some to grasp and in dismal economic times may even seem like a counterintuitive approach. I am convinced geotourism offers the the very best course for the future of a sustainable tourism industry but even more so, for the future the world’s unique places close to home and all around this beautifully diverse globe.

Getting the outdoor industry behind Tim DeChristopher

Written by leehart on January 10th, 2009. Posted in Land

Details are still in the works but I’m letting all my fellow passionate outdoor enthusiasts who will be attending the upcoming Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Salt Lake City know that during the show, they’ll be able to meet and support Tim DeChristopher and his daring effort to stand up to the government to protect scenic landscapes around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks from oil and gas development.

I was struck by the story of Tim DeChristopher from the moment I first learned about his creative act of civil disobedience during a controversial BLM oil and gas lease auction on Dec. 19 in Utah. I started blogging and twittering to draw attention to Tim’s valor and then drive other sympathizers to his main news, info and donation collection website which went live around the New Year. Along the way, I learned Tim is the son of a friend of mine here in Salida, CO.

So it was killing me to be in the air today of all days since today was the deadline for Tim and his supporters to present the BLM with a check for $45,000, basically the mandated downpayment on the $1.7 million Tim won by bid for oil and gas rights to 22,500 acres primarily around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Bids won before oil and gas industry auction veterans became suspicious of the new kid on the block whose bidding was driving the price of the parcels up. The auction was stopped. Tim was ejected and is still uncertain whether and on what grounds the feds may press charges against him. See, Tim’s an economics student at the University of Utah and, like most college kids, didn’t have the personal economic viability to actually pay for any of the bids he won.

Anyway,  I was psyched to open up my inbox tonight to learn that the first hurdle has been cleared. According to Tim, thousands of people donated $10, $20 or whatever they could in otherwise gloomy economic times and collectively raised the necessary $45,000. But Tim’s story is far from over. Despite the specter of public relations suicide if they reject it, the feds are still mulling over whether they will accept Tim’s downpayment. And if they do, it will be no mean feat to raise the remaining $1.25 million needed to complete the lease purchase. It also still remains to be seen if the feds will find the will and the legal means to press charges against Tim, which, if he’s convicted, carry the threat of prison time.

I’m not alone in my support of Tim. The list of media who have interviewed him or covered updates on the story grows daily along with appearance requests. Tim also enjoys the support of folks like these:

Actor Robert Redford, who is also owner of Sundance Resort in Utah, founder of the Sundance Film Festival held each January in Utah and a friend of the environment and Native American rights.

Ken Sleight, friend of the late, outspoken environmental author and essayist Edward Abbey and the man upon whom Seldom Seen Smith in Abbey’s “The Monkey Wrench Gang” is loosely based.

Patrick Shea, the former head of the BLM during the Clinton Administration. Shea, a prominent Utah lawyer, educator and businessman is a Rhodes Scholar with degrees from Oxford and Harvard. He’s leading Tim’s legal defense team.

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Ross “Rocky” Anderson who, while in office championed – among other progressive ideas – green initiatives, a more vibrant city center and hosted the 2002 Olympic Winter Games as well as being an outspoken critic of the current Bush administration. Anderson is a full-time environmental activist.

Hopefully some of these folks will be able to join Tim when he comes to the Salt Palace to share his story with the outdoor industry. We’ll keep our fingers crossed and the details flowing on this blog and via Twitter and other social media outlets so stay tuned for more info and I hope you’ll join me in welcoming and supporting Tim and his cause.

For a comprehensive roundup of news and information about Tim and his courageous act, visit (A reference to the number on the bidding paddle Tim was issued at the BLM auction.)

Cruise lines appear to be sailing toward geotourism

Written by leehart on January 5th, 2009. Posted in Geotourism, Travel

Every industry has its canary in the coalmine and for travel, some would argue that cruise lines are the proverbial canary.
Travel industry pros skeptical about emerging industry trends are more willing to begin to gently embrace that trend if it can be shown that the major cruise lines are onto it.
So I thought I’d Google around and see what I could find out about the debates and tactics under discussion in the cruise industry.
March 2006. Conservation International’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business publishes “From Ship to Shore: Sustainable Stewardship in Cruise Destinations.”
The report was produced by CI as part of its work through the Ocean Conservation and Tourism Alliance (OCTA), an initiative between CI and the International Council of Cruise Lines working to protect biodiversity in main cruise destinations while promoting industry practices that minimize environmental impacts.
“Although cruise tourism has the potential to overwhelm fragile destinations if not managed effectively, the industry is also a great potential ally for conservation, because many cruise passengers are attracted by the opportunity to experience new places and cultures,” stated Russell Mittermeier, president of CI, in the From Ship to Shore Foreword.
The report features stakeholder examples of tangible steps taken to ensure a sustainable future for cruise tourism while maintaining a destination’s natural and cultural integrity. It also offers recommendations on best practices for the cruise lines, governments, civil society and shore excursion operators.
For example, this latter group is encouraged to “form partnerships with local communities and indigenous people in order to include cultural elements in their shore excursions and implement operating procedures to minimize negative impact on the local environment and cultures.”
Feb. 2008. Geotourism was recognized as a new travel trend at the American Association of Port Authorities Annual Conference.
May 2008. Allies within the Belize cruise tourism industry signed a declaration of commitment to create sustainable cruise tourism practices. Conservation International hailed the accord between the government of Belize, the private sector, NGOs and cruise lines as the “first such document to address considerations by an established nature tourism destination,” and predicted the accord would become a role model for cruise line destinations worldwide.
June 2008. Conservation International and Cruise Lines International Association signed an agreement to renew the Ocean Conservation and Tourism Alliance to minimize the cruise industry’s environmental footprint and protect biodiversity.
A press release about the agreement stated CI will continue to work with CLIA to develop and implement good practice standards and training tools for shore excursions, support conservation projects in key cruise destinations and raise awareness and support for conservation issues among cruise industry customers, employees and vendors.

Geotourists relish the distinctly different

Written by leehart on January 4th, 2009. Posted in Geotourism, Travel

More than a century ago the great American author noted Mark Twain opined, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”
Therefore, it is disturbing to note State Department stats showing just 30 percent of Americans possess a valid passport.
Travel and interacting with people in other cultures enriches our lives and I contend that traveling with respect and humility for other cultures helps make it harder to contemplate war. Pay attention when you travel and beyond foreign language, dress, customs and religions, at the heart of it, we are share some core aspirations. People want to live in peace and want to make their world and the world around them more comfortable and safe for their friends and loved ones, especially their children.
A travel industry-wide mindset focused on pleasing everyone and making folks “feel at home” is eroding the distinctive characteristics that drew visitors to a destination or attraction in the first place. As underscored by a Travel Industry Association report, people are beginning to realize that destinations are morphing into homogenous places that offer similar experiences. Characteristics such as unique local customs and cuisines, architecture and culture are the primary draws for those consumers who take the most trips, spend the most money and produces the greatest volume of visits overall.
A pet peeve of mine on this topic is the rise of the all-inclusive resort. Perfect for time-strapped travelers and others who like a more predictable experience, all-inclusives insulate visitors from the authentic natural attractions, small local businesses, villages and towns of the “real people.”
There are other forces at work too, that if left unchecked, will lead to further erosion of the diverse and vibrant cultural fabric of this planet. Many immigrants who came to this country at the turn of the last century hid their languages, cuisine and customs in an attempt to blend in and be an American. In the same way, indigenous people, frequently shed their traditional food production and preparations, traditional attire and cultural customs in order to better assimilate into enviable Western culture.
Therefore I believe it’s important to propel the principles of geotourism, which at its core “represents restorative and reconstructive forms of tourism that enhances a destination’s natural and cultural distinctiveness, as well as provides a high-quality visitor experience.”
I am relieved the TIA study finds that the travel habits of the 55.1 million Americans who could be classified as geotourists are guided in their travel decisions by a high awareness of the world around them and have a seemingly insatiable appetite for unique and culturally authentic travel experiences that protect and preserve the ecological and cultural environment.

Why geotourism matters to me

Written by leehart on January 1st, 2009. Posted in Geotourism

Geotourism: Tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well being of its residents. – National Geographic’s Center of Sustainable Destinations

I like geotourism because I see it beyond the mere marketing niche into which some folks try to pigeonhole the concept. It’s what communities, states and countries turn to when they want to ensure that mass tourism doesn’t obscure the local landscape, water supplies, land affordability and cultural heritage and diversity.

According to a market research study on geotourism, jointly funded by the Travel Industry Association and National Geographic Traveler, “today’s traveler craves and expects authentic experiences. They want to return from a trip renewed or changed in some way.”

In it’s simplist terms, geotourism is about the rise of the “traveler” over the “tourist.”  Travelers seek out authentic experiences, local flavor, and meaningful engagement with the destinations and cultures they visit. I’ve always been a traveler so geotourism resonated with me immediately. Having spent the last few years deeply engaged in tourism marketing it seems absolutely essential to adopt and prople the principles of geotourism especially in such a naturally breathtaking state as Colorado, poster child of what many folks think of when they think of the great American West.

So i floated some test balloons. On the ground, the reaction to my idea for a geotourism initiative has been more positive than any idea I’ve ever put forth. When I explained the concept to private citizens, business owners, allied non-profit leaders, civic leaders, public land managers, history buffs and fellow tourism industry marketers and leaders nearly everyone had the same reaction. Without exception folks responded with a sigh of relief. Finally, through geotourism travelers could be encouraged to actually help improve and resolve the social conditions, environmental challengs and unique character of the places they visit. Geotourism could help make it acceptable to measure success not by sheer numbers of visitors but by the quality of their experiences. It seems clear that geotourism is the answer to the question of how to ensure a thriving tourism economy that also preserves the promise of The West and all its colorful landscapes, skyscapes and people.

Tourism is the lifeblood of Colorado’s many mountain resorts. Indeed in 2007, overnight trips totaled 28 million and overall tourism spending amounted tonearly $10 billion. The challenge for tourism promoters is to to balance inevitable progress while retaining the elements that attract so many visitors who contribute to local and state economies through direct expenditures and tax revenues that support community vitality.

Yet there are skeptics who must be convinced the geotourism pays before they’ll hop aboard one of the tourism industry’s newest niche “-isms,” (joined by agritourism and heritage tourism). Through the initiative I’ve spearheaded, I hope to prove there is marketplace interest and demand geotourism as a framework for response to these TIA stats:

71 percent of the traveling public indicates that it is important to them that their visits to a destination not damage its environment.
61 percent – nearly two-thirds – agree that their travel experience is
better when the destination preserves its natural, historic, and cultural sites and attractions.
58 percent support controlling access to National Parks and public lands so they can be preserved and protected.
53 percent of travelers agree that their travel experience is better when they have
learned as much as possible about their destination’s customs, geography, and culture.