Durango seeks to lure summer visitors

Tourism officials use coupon books, social media to attract visitors

Drew Kensinger, with Mild to Wild Rafting and Jeep Tours, inflates an eight-person raft while inspecting rafts for the season. Mild to Wild has talked a few potential summer visitors who are concerned about gas prices. However, many people view Durango as a bargain compared with bigger named resort destinations. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Herald

Drew Kensinger, with Mild to Wild Rafting and Jeep Tours, inflates an eight-person raft while inspecting rafts for the season. Mild to Wild has talked a few potential summer visitors who are concerned about gas prices. However, many people view Durango as a bargain compared with bigger named resort destinations.

With spring break visitors headed home, Durango’s tourism industry has turned its attention to summer with some new and renewed strategies to attract out-of-towners to Southwest Colorado.

A focus on social media and a partnership with Be Local coupon books are two of the newer components of the Durango Area Tourism Office’s summer tourism marketing plan, said Anne Klein Barney, public relations specialist with DATO.

The office uses its Facebook page as a way for tourists to find out events and deals and instantly “become an insider,” Klein Barney said.

Twitter and Foursquare, a location-based social networking site, are two other ways the tourism office is working to promote Durango and keep in touch with visitors, said DATO Executive Director John Cohen.

“We’re using social media much more so than ever,” Cohen said. He added that Durango is one of the few cities in the nation to have its own destination page on Foursquare.

Another program the tourism office is working on aims to add value to the Durango experience once visitors are already here and encourage them to come back, Klein Barney said.

Through a partnership with Local First, the maker of Be Local coupon books, the office will give coupon books to selected visitors. Parents and players who come to the Durango Shootout soccer tournament in early May will be the first recipients of the coupon books. If the idea catches on, the tourism office may develop smaller coupon books geared toward tourists specifically, Klein Barney said.

“We’re trying to increase repeat visitation,” she said, “People love to come to Durango, and they’re too busy (during the tournament) to use 99.9 percent of the coupons, so we’re encouraging them to come back.”

The office also will give Be Local books to passengers on the new American Eagle Airlines direct flight from Dallas when it begins in June. The goal in that case is to help people make the most of their trip, Klein Barney said.

“We’re looking at how do we create value without giving away the storefront,” she said. “The price points remain the same in Durango, but we add value.”

Though the office is targeting some flying customers, it recognizes the bulk of Durango’s summer tourists still drive here, Cohen said.

“Even though we’re focusing on the new American Airlines flight, we’re not going to forget our bread and butter, which is our driving market,” he said. Much of DATO’s marketing focuses on markets that are within driving distance of Durango, including Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California, he said.

Judging by winter’s tourism numbers this summer season may be a step up from last year, Cohen said.

The lodgers tax that hotels collect was up 5 percent during both December and January, he said.

The Strater Hotel is already receiving many reservations from big groups, and judging by those numbers, it’s going to be a good summer, said Lorraine Bittles, spokeswoman for the hotel.

But even as numbers are looking positive, tourism officials are well aware of the potential for rising gas prices to put a damper on Durango’s most lucrative tourism season.

They’ve already got at least one solution.

The Durango Area Tourism Office again will publish a brochure with suggestions about free and inexpensive activities around town in order to make vacations here more affordable, Klein Barney said.

“We can’t change price of gas, but once you get here, it doesn’t have to be expensive,” she said.

And with its natural amenities, Durango is cheaper than many tourist destinations, said Adriann Leveille a trip consultant from Mild to Wild Rafting.

“We’ve talked to a few people who are a bit concerned about the gas prices, but most people are planning trips to places like Durango because it is a little bit more affordable,”Leveille said. “You get same thing out of your vacation without going to huge resort.”

ecowan@durango herald.com

Frank Miller, left, and his brother Shane Miller, tour guides and mechanics with Mild to Wild, replace a vanís engine as the company prepares for rafting season. The Durango Area Tourism Office is using social media and coupon books to attract more visitors to Southwest Colorado to help fill Mild to Wildís vans with river runners. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Herald

Frank Miller, left, and his brother Shane Miller, tour guides and mechanics with Mild to Wild, replace a vanís engine as the company prepares for rafting season. The Durango Area Tourism Office is using social media and coupon books to attract more visitors to Southwest Colorado to help fill Mild to Wildís vans with river runners.