Giving tourism a boost
Within that odd conundrum, says local outfitter Chico Thuon, lies the solution to how more visitors can be lured here in the summer.
State lawmakers this year will consider increasing substantially the amount of money Colorado spends promoting tourism. Thuon, a co-owner of Fritz and Chico’s Flyfishing Outfitters, says some of that money should be spent on winter-time promotion of summer kayaking, biking, hiking and other warm-weather mountain activities.
“A lot of my business one summer was generated through an ad I put in a magazine that was put on coffee tables in all the hotels during the winter,” says Thuon. “When winter tourists are here, tell them more about the summer.”
In other words, show them what it is that locals love so much about the summer, Thuon says.
“There are rich people that can spend money everywhere in the world. They just need to branch out some,” Thuon says. “People just don’t know about the summer – it’s a well-kept secret.”
State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, who represents Eagle County, says he will support a bill calling for approximately $25 million worth of annual tourism promotion.
“It really goes to help small businesses – the mom-and-pops that can’t afford to advertise,” Taylor says. “Colorado is about 40th in tourism spending – Hawaii spends about $60 million a year promoting tourism.”
Studies show every dollar spent on tourism generates $50 in revenues, Taylor says.
“It’s really about attracting people to Colorado. The amenities we have sell themselves – a lot of people just have to see it on TV,” Taylor says. “I’ve seen Kansas and Nebraska on TV. They promote themselves.”
Frank Johnson, president of the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Board, says $25 million worth of promotion would almost certainly give local tourism a tremendous boost.
“It’s really been a travesty that the state of Colorado had essentially no tourism promotion for a number of years,” Johnson says. “The Legislature decided to spend $5 million a couple of years ago, and that was a step in the right direction.”
The valley is in better shape than some other areas because large companies like Vail Resorts and major hotel chains can afford to promote themselves heavily. Therefore, any money spent promoting tourism will really benefit outfitters, rental shops and other small businesses, Johnson says.
“This would be so beneficial to the tourism industry – which is virtually all small businesses,” he says. “It’s just crucial in the future that we find some way to get this done.”
Tough on tourism
Thuon says the state is still recovering from Gov. Bill Owens’ notorious announcement during last summer’s wildfire epidemic that the “state is burning.” That comment, broadcast around the world, is still keeping people away from Colorado, says Thuon, who is a ski instructor in the winter.
“I think what Gov. Owens did on CNN last summer hurt us incredibly. To bounce back, the Legislature needs to pour some money in the budget,” Thuon says. “The combination of fires and bad press not only drove tourists from the U.S. away, it drove off Europeans, too. My ski clients have said they saw the governor on TV saying “Don’t come.'”
What may be surprising to both folks in Vail and their neighbors in ski country is that recreation accounts for less than a tenth of Colorado’s tourism revenues, Taylor says.
“What part of tourism is recreation? Under 10 percent,” Taylor says. “What’s the biggest single attraction in Colorado? The Cherry Creek Shopping Center in Denver.”
Also potentially surprising to people in ski country is that more people visit Colorado in the summer than in the winter. Rocky Mountain National Park, for one, is the third busiest park in the country.
“When you think about, there’s a lot more traffic going through Vail in summer than in the winter. It’s the same in Steamboat,” Taylor says.
The hardest part of boosting spending on tourism promotion, Taylor says, is finding a steady source of cash to support it. But that will likely be harder in a year when Legislators are preparing to slash $850 million in spending from the state’s next budget.
Still, tourism is the “lifeblood” of the economy in the Vail Valley and folks here have to make sure spending to lure visitors here remains a priority of state government, Johnson says.
“I whole-heartedly support getting it done,” Johnson says. “We need to keep the pressure on through our legislators and keep putting these kinds of things in front of people.”
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: This is the third part of a five-part series examining issues affecting residents of the Vail Valley that are being considered in the 2003 Colorado Legislature this year.