I recently had the opportunity to hear Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, speak about the importance of tourism on the United States economy. Granted, he's biased toward travel and tourism but it was interesting to hear his take on a sector near and dear to us here in Eagle County.
Specifically, he talked about how travel is "like Rodney Dangerfield of the economy - it gets no respect." Here in the Vail Valley, we know better than most that travel and tourism results in jobs, economic impacts and a strong local economy.
What we don't always take into consideration is the related industries that result from tourism development including related industries such as outdoor recreation. Outdoor recreation is tied so closely to tourism that the state of Colorado's economic development plan bundles tourism and outdoor recreation together in one "key industry network" - and they have included it as a key component of Colorado's continued economic growth.
Let's accept the hypothesis that tourism is the economic driver of our small business community in Eagle County - from direct beneficiaries such as activity companies, rental shops, lodges and transportation companies to indirect beneficiaries such as the variety of professional service companies that service the tourism industry (accountants, banks, marketing firms, public relations agencies, graphic designers, etc.). If tourism is the driver of small business success, what's the key driver of tourism and how do we, as a community, leverage these drivers to increase our collective benefit?
Accommodations and food services make up 8 percent of our businesses - but employ 26 percent of our workforce, with an average lodging property employing over 60 staff. Arts, entertainment and recreation make up just 3 percent of our businesses, but employ 13 percent of our workforce. Together, these direct tourism industries are obviously important to our economy as they employee almost 40 percent of our workforce.
Certainly our mountain resorts are the drivers and the strong brands of Vail and Beaver Creek support our various business community efforts. As we learned last year (both summer and winter), Mother Nature plays an important role in our tourism efforts. Thankfully Mother Nature was more kind to us this winter, leading to a strong ski season and key metrics, such as retail sales tax collections and lodging occupancies. Additional drivers include the variety of special events, which help fill out our calendar, providing a high level of satisfaction to our guests and introducing new guests to our communities.
Most people here recognize that our economic health depends on a vibrant tourism industry. However, Mr. Dow's comments about travel and tourism being the Rodney Dangerfield of the U.S. economy resonated with me, as we tend to take the economic benefits of tourism for granted. Even those that directly benefit from our tourism economy often look to point the finger at someone else to solve the challenges facing our community as we attempt to positively impact our future.
Specifically, the EGE Air Alliance is working diligently to increase air service to the Eagle County Regional Airport. Increased non-stop air service to EGE is paramount to our community and our continued tourism success, directly benefiting the above business segments and those professional services that service our tourism providers.
The economics of the Eagle County Regional Airport are impressive. The airport helps contribute an annual economic impact of $980 million, in addition to 10,467 jobs and over $6.4 million in taxes paid by airport tenants (data via the CDOT Division of Aeronautics 2008 Study). The EGE Air Alliance has worked to add a summer nonstop flight from Houston for this summer, capturing one of our top out of state markets and top second-home owner markets and making the Vail Valley an even more appealing destination. They are working to add new service on a year-round basis and it's incumbent on the business community to support the efforts as we all benefit.
The fact remains that our airport is key to our continued success and supports our key economic driver - tourism.
If Mr. Dow is correct that tourism is the Rodney Dangerfield of the economy, than Eagle County Regional Airport might just be the Rodney Dangerfield of our local tourism industry.
Want to be part of the solution? If you benefit from the Partnership's tourism promotion, business services, collaborative programming and economic development efforts, join the Partnership. Benefit from increased flight service into the Eagle County Regional Airport? Support the EGE Air Alliance to help add additional flight service on a year round basis. Visit www.vailvalleypartnership.com to learn more.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.