Giving local tourism a push

Owners to talk about best ways to do business

Tourism is a critical component of Southwest Colorado’s economy. And understanding the trends, programs and plans for tourism around Colorado can ensure local businesses are taking advantage of each dollar and opportunity the state and its visitors have to offer.

“There are so many plans and opportunities in this state that local businesses affected by tourism may not be aware of,” said Sarah McLean, sales manager for the Durango Area Tourism Office.

To ensure local shops, hotels and attractions around Southwest Colorado have information they need and can utilize all of the opportunities available to them, a handful of local tourism organizations and businesses this year launched a new, annual summit in honor of the visitors who bring revenue to the area each year.

“Every business, no matter how big or small should know as much as they can about these markets,” said Carrie Whitley, sales manager for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. “We have a lot of tourists that come through this region.”

The inaugural Southwest Tourism Summit will be held in Durango April 5-6. Among the highlights are: presentations by Al White, director of the Colorado Tourism office, Tour Colorado, Grand Circle Travel Association and area organizations such as DATO, Durango Chamber of Commerce and the local Business Improvement District.

The summit and its presentations will traverse downtown facilities, such as Durango & Silverton Railroad museum and Strater Hotel.

White said his agency is excited to participate in the nonprofit event.

“We want our tourism industry partners from all regions of the state to be aware of what we do and how we can benefit each other working in a collaborative fashion,” he said. Also, it is important for our staff members to be knowledgeable about all of the wonderful travel and tourism opportunities that exist throughout the state. This office outreach to the Southwest will definitely help educate us.”

Here, tourism touches, or could impact, more businesses than some may realize, Whitley said. Even the area’s ranchers could be taking advantage of the market as agritourism continues to grow in popularity, she said.

“The effort is to define how we can grow our piece of the tourism pie and bring more people to the area,” Whitley said. “If we’re all working in that effort and understand the resources that are out there, we can grow that pie.”

Officials hope to see the annual event held each year in Durango, bringing an estimated 100 tourism business owners and professionals to the two-day conference.

“We really want this to be an educational opportunity for local businesses,” McLean said.

Whitley said the response from state tourism officials and their willingness to attend and help has so far surpassed organizers’ expectations.

“I’m thrilled we have had such a response statewide from tourism partners, leaders and associations,” she said. “We’ve never brought together so many of these leaders in the industry (to this area).”

McLean said the plan is to bring together those officials and information gathered at numerous seminars, workshops, conferences and state events for local businesses.

Organizers hope to localize all the information and data from the officials and various events, which often forecast tourism revenues, offer insights into finding opportunities for success in a down economy and share information about grants, programs and other services available to tourism partners.

Then, the most useful and important insights will be put into one format at a single event and be offered to the region’s small businesses that maybe do not have the time nor money to make repeated cross-state treks to the state-level functions offered throughout the year, McLean said.

“We just thought it would be great if we could share that information we get at those conferences with our local businesses,” McLean said.

Typically, only a handful of local tourism officials and business owners attend the events, she said.

The summit also could have a growing impact on tourism in Durango over time, she said. As the event draws business owners from Telluride, Ouray, Cortez, Pagosa Springs and all other places in between, summit organizers said local hotels, restaurants and other businesses could benefit with a slight off-season boost in revenue.