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Tourism on top in governor’s race

Cliff Thompson

How to promote and pay for it, however, is where they differ.

“The majority of the Colorado tourism experience is delivered by true mom and pop businesses. Small in size, investment, dollar amount of transactions and employees, these businesses fly below the radar of most public and government understanding,” Heath says.

The Owens camp, on the other hand, touts not cutting tourism funding when the state made extensive funding cuts earlier this year.



“The governor is committed to using general fund dollars to fund tourism and to promote the state,” says Owens’ spokesman, Dan Hopkins. “When budget cuts were made earlier this year it was one area he did not cut.”

State-funded tourism promotion ended in 1992 when the state’s tourism lodging tax expired. Voters decided not to renew that tax and the Colorado Tourism Board was subsequently abolished and replaced with the the Tourism Authority, which wasn’t funded and therefore, couldn’t operate.



The Tourism Board was re-established in 2000 by Gov. Owens with annual funding of $5.6 million.

Colorado hosts 24 million visitors annually and tourism is estimated by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade to generate $7 billion annually. Most of that, $5.6 billion, was spent by people on vacation, who spend $81 per day. Business travelers, who spend an average of $95 per day, made up the balance.

Skiers, on which a significant portion of the economy of Eagle County depends, spend an average of $129 per day. Statewide, skiers make up 6 percent of the visitors to the state.



But Heath said getting reliable tourism data is difficult and unscientific.

“There are only two methods that provide hard data to approximate the size and impact of the tourism businesses in a community: the volume of sewage processed and the sales tax collected,” Heath says. “Unnecessary frictions will continue because the data is more difficult to find, interpret and use than for other business sectors.”

Owens has been working actively with the state’s resorts, attractions and other businesses that rely heavily on tourism, Hopkins says.

“He continues to work with the private sector and at the end of this month, will be hosting the second Governor’s Tourism Conference in Grand Junction,” Hopkins says. “That’s designed to get input from private industry and tourism leaders around the state.”

But Heath says a fundamental problem is the tourism industry is fractured and decentralized. Tourism has to be a major focus of the governor, and a stronger partnership with the private sector would create cohesion and understanding, rather than “divisions and accusations,” Heath says.

“Such a partnership could have headed off rhetoric like the “all of Colorado is burning,’ remark by Gov. Owens.'”

Hopkins, however, says Heath’s proposal has no money to back it.

“Rollie has cited no method of payment for his proposal. It’s easy to propose pie in the sky,” Hopkins says. “When Gov. Owens took office, Colorado was near the bottom of list.”

Hopkins says the state’s tourism Web site received 300,000 hits in one month, making it one of the most popular tourism Web sites in the country.

Leveraging the state’s funding will “magnify” the effect, Hopkins says.

Colorado Ski Country USA, a ski industry group that promotes Colorado skiing, piggybacks its promotions with the state, Hopkins said.

Locally, the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Board has not taken a position on either candidate’s tourism plans.

Rollie Heath’s tourism plan

– Establish a dedicated funding source. Colorado ranks 29th in tourism funding among the 50 states.

– Create a strategic plan that targets known markets and increases Colorado’s market share.

– Recruit a professional staff to develop and execute a first-rate tourism plan.

– Promote Eco/Heritage/Agri-tourism to take advantage of Colorado’s environment and focus on combination tourism such as a Heritage Trail that links historic sites, natural resources and cultural experience.

– Work with local officials in the Interstate 70 corridor to develop a plan for a workable regional transportation system and develop more international and regional air service so tourists can reach their destinations easily.

Gov. Owens’ plan

– $5.6 million in general fund money is committed to the Colorado Tourism Board.

– Most of that money, $4 million, is leveraged into group advertising purchases for national advertising campaigns while the remainder is used for the state’s Web site and to operate 98 welcome centers.

– Work in partnership with the tourism industry to magnify the effect of those dollars.

– Asked for an increase of $1 million last year after Sept. 11 attacks, received $500,000 in funding from the Legislature.

– Despite budget cutbacks in other departments, tourism budget is untouched.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com


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