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Cliff Thompson

VAIL -Worried that state legislators might ax future funding for tourism because of tight budgets, state tourism officials are taking it to the streets.They’re calling on everyone in the tourism industry to begin spreading the word about the value of tourism with a volunteer grassroots ambassador program. “Those of us in the tourism industry are in for the fight of our lives,” said Peter Meersman, chief executive of the Colorado Restaurant Association, in an address to the Governor’s Tourism Conference held at Cascade Village.”We’re worried we’ll be cut out of the state budget,” he said. “We need tourism ambassadors to talk to citizens. We want farmers on tractors to be able to explain how tourism is important to the state.”In 1993 a state tourism tax was not renewed by voters and Colorado’s. Tourism dropped, said Gov. Bill Owens, keynote speaker at the conference.Without money to promote tourism, officials are worried that the state’s third largest industry, after manufacturing and agriculture, will wither.In 1999 Owens said he used an executive order to provide $5 million in funding, a level maintained until this year when a one-time windfall from investments in unclaimed property brought the level to $9 million. Last year 25 million people visited Colorado and spend $7.1 billion, the governor said, while spending on tourism reached $7 million.By the numbersColorado ranks 38th among the 50 states in spending with Hawaii first, Illinois second and Pennsylvania, third. After Florida and California, it’s the third-most desired destination in the country, statistics from the tourism office show.Behind the fear of being axed out of the budget is the knowledge that the state government will face a $236 million budget shortfall this year, Meersman said. That means more budget cuts.”Tourists pay our tax bills and they educate our children,” he said. ” ?We need to spread the word about how important tourism is.”The Colorado Tourism office presented statistics showing that in 2003 more then 3.8 million tourists visited the state and spend $.105 billion, as a direct result of the tourism offices spending $5.1 million in advertising.”This resulted in a $65.5 million boost in state and local taxes, up from $32.4 million in 2002, that would not have been The study also said that every public dollar spent advertising the state, brought in $203. Gov. Owens said he doesn’t believe a new tourism tax would be passed by voters, so finding a reliable funding source will require legislative cooperation.But spending more on tourism promotion doesn’t necessarily equate into more visitors. Economic trends, wars, terrorism and other factors can hurt tourism, said Stephanie Dalgar, director of communication for the tourism office.”There are so many variables that affect visitation,” she said. Visitation this year dipped to 24.9 million people from 26.1 million the year prior, she said. Dalgar said a decline in business travel and a decline in visitation by friends and relatives is to blame. But the tourism bureau doesn’t focus on that type of traveler, she said.New moneyTourism is also important from another perspective. It’s not recycled money, said Brian Vogt of the state office of Economic Development and International Trade.”It’s in every community of the state, bringing in outside dollars” Vogt said. “Tourism adds wealth and jobs to the entire community.”Gov. Owens said the most people around the globe talk about the last time they came to Colorado.”Wherever I travel, people almost immediately talk about the last time they were in Colorado,” he said. Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or cthompson@vaildaily.com.Colorado Tourism at a glance*• Colorado hosted 24.9 million domestic visitors last year• They spent $7.1 billion• More than 200,000 jobs are tied to tourism* Colorado Tourism Office


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