$10 million for tourism

Matt Zalaznick

Well, Colorado’s top tourism promotion engine is ready to triple the money it spends luring tourists to the state from $5 million a year to $15 million.

“This is a tremendous step in the right direction for the state and we hope it will have a big impact on our local tourism,” says Ian Anderson, a spokesman for the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau.

Colorado – despite its ski resorts, national parks and sprawling wilderness – is about 40th among state governments in spending on tourism promotion. Hawaii, for example, spends more than $70 million a year.

Studies show, meanwhile, that every dollar spent on tourism generates $50 in revenues.

Supporters of increasing tourism spending include both of Eagle County’s representatives in the state capitol. They have argued tourism is a sure-fire investment that promises quick and substantial returns.

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“It’s quick recovery – if we put the money out there, we can generate revenue pretty quickly,” says state Rep. Carl Miller, D-Leadville.

Eagle County’s man in the state Senate, Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, is asking for $25 million in annual tourism promotion.

The funds approved this week are part of a $19 million economic stimulus package proposed earlier this year by Gov. Bill Owens, who today is expected to sign the bill allocating the money. The $10 will be added to the $5 million already budgeted for the state’s tourism office.

Leaders in the local tourism industry, however, point out that $10 million, which will be divided throughout the state, is only about five times what the town of Vail spends promoting summer tourism.

“For the entire state to have five times as much as the small town of Vail is obviously not enough,” says Beth Slifer, chairman of the Vail Marketing Advisory Committee. “But it’s positive and I’m sure it will be put to good use.”

Encouraging more travelers to visit Vail in the summer will be one of the best uses of the newly-approved funds, both Anderson and Slifer say.

“$10 million will increase the visibility of Colorado as a destination for tourism, and once tourists get interested in Colorado it will be our intent to get those potential tourists interested in Vail as the premier destination in the state,” Slifer says.

Anderson says the best time to advertise summertime in Vail is during the winter.

“We know our winter guest is really our target summer guest, as well,” Anderson says.

Colorado spent quite a bit promoting tourism until 1992, when voters rejected a plan to use a portion of sales-tax revenues to fund marketing and advertising. Visits to the state have dropped, right along with spending, Slifer says.

“When Colorado tourism spending was cut, Colorado tourism revenue dropped immediately,” Slifer says. “Tourism is proven to be very responsive to advertising and marketing – and Colorado desperately needs to improve this sector of our economy.”

Owens’ opponent in last year’s race for governor, businessman Rollie Heath, a Democrat, made tourism a major part of his campaign. Some observers of the state capitol say Heath’s strong stance on tourism is responsible –at least in part – for Owens’ funding push.

“My concern was we had let it deteriorate – and once you lose momentum, it’s tough to regain it,” Heath says. “My thought is we should have been doing it for the last four years. But I’m glad Owens is supporting tourism to this extent.”

The money should help Colorado get back on the list of places Americans consider for their vacations, Heath says, adding Colorado has plenty of mountains, parks and canyons to sell when money is spent to advertise them.

“Very few things in life sell themselves – you’ve got to encourage people,” Heath says. “When families are sitting down for dinner thinking about vacations, we want to be forefront in their thinking. That’s what this money is designed to do.”

Frank Johnson, president of the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau, says even with the $10 million boost, Colorado will still spend less than surrounding states, such as Utah and Wyoming, which are battling for the same tourists.

“We’re excited because this is double what’s been spent in the last four or fives years,” Johnson says. “But if you look at that amount against what neighboring states spend, it’s still a pretty small number.”

Because Vail’s on Interstate 70 and many vacationers spend their time in Colorado driving around the state, the valley should benefit from any money spent promoting Colorado, Johnson says.

“I think we, as a community, stand to benefit dramatically, being a very recognizable brand within state of Colorado,” Johnson says. “When we’re not in evidence in advertising as a state, I think we really do drop off the list of places under consideration.

“This should give us a starting point,” he says, “to get back on the list and hopefully, move back to the top of the list.”

Video lottery eyed for tourism promotion

Video lottery machines at the state’s dog tracks, horse tracks and casinos could raise a whopping $25 million to promote tourism in Colorado, says state Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs.

Taylor, whose district includes Eagle County, says he wants to let Colorado voters decide on the proposal, which could also raise several million dollars for state parks and the preservation of open space.

In 1998, Taylor sponsored a similar bill that was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Bill Owens. What’s new in this proposal – aside from putting it on the ballot – is lottery machines only would be placed in gaming establishments, such as the state’s casinos and its four dog-racing tracks.

“We’re not expanding gambling,” Taylor says. “The terminals cannot be put in corner convenience stores or corner drug stores or bars or other stores.”

Based on studies that show every $1 spent promoting tourism brings $50 dollars to the economy, Taylor says his proposal could bring Colorado businesses $1.25 billion.

“Did we need that money right now? The answer is clearly “yes,'” Taylor says.

Taylor says he hopes to gather enough signatures to put his initiative on the ballot in the fall. The proposal also could raise another $17.5 million to preserve open space and another $5 million for state parks, he says.

Meanwhile, Colorado continues to fall behind states like Kansas and Alabama in tourism promotion, Taylor says. Over the last several years, Colorado’s tourism office has spent approximately $5 million promoting the state.

“These states that don’t have as much to promote are promoting – and we’re losing $2.1 billion to $2.4 billion since we quit promoting Colorado,” Taylor says. “If we can get this passed, it will generate more dollars back to Colorado.”

Summit Daily News Reporter Jane Stebbins contributed to this report.

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