Tourism summit emphasizes cooperation

Agencies more effective when they work together, leaders say

Bob Kunkel, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District, emphasized the need for agencies to collaborate during the Southwest Tourism Summit. Working together, Kunkel said, ensures everyone can achieve success. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Bob Kunkel, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District, emphasized the need for agencies to collaborate during the Southwest Tourism Summit. Working together, Kunkel said, ensures everyone can achieve success.

The key word at last week’s inaugural Southwest Tourism Summit was “collaboration.” More than 200 participants from statewide, regional and local tourism-related organizations learned how to work with each other and use each other’s services to boost their own efforts.

“We get so caught up in who is going where and how long they’re staying in one community, we lose track of the goal to share more about our area in general and make this a bigger piece of the pie,” said Carrie Whitley, sales manager for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and primary organizer of the conference on April 5 and 6.

The summit included presentations by Al White, director of the Colorado Tourism Office; Four Corners Film Commission; and Southwest Colorado Travel Region.

On Thursday, representatives from Durango’s business, economic-development and tourism sectors were the first to preach the importance of collaboration and interconnectedness between each of their organizations.

The key to local organizations’ efficiency is that they work together without overlapping, said Bob Kunkel, executive director of the Business Improvement District.

The new Durango Welcome Center and Durango’s preparation work for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in August are both good examples of successful collaboration, Kunkel said.

The Chamber of Commerce helps out by redirecting calls about tourism or potential business prospects to places like the Durango Area Tourism Office or the La Plata Economic Development Alliance, said Jack Llewellyn, executive director of the chamber.

Meanwhile, the La Plata Economic Development Alliance has a vested interest in supporting tourism, said Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the alliance.

“When you’re trying to recruit people, tourism is a gateway drug,” he said. People come here on vacation and love it, then want to come back, live and start a business, which is where his organization comes in, Zalneraitis said.

“Without a healthy tourism economy, we would be in a much different position trying to build up primary businesses than we are now,” he said.

John Cohen, head of the Durango Area Tourism Office, emphasized the importance of cooperative marketing efforts that allow people to pool their resources. He also emphasized the growing importance of mobile devices, online marketing and social media.

“Five years from now, (the millennial generation) will be a major force in buying power,” Cohen said. “We need to get in front of them now, and we need to use technology.”

The tourism summit sold out, with 200 participants coming from across the region, including Utah, Colorado and Nebraska.

Whitley said she doesn’t know of any other event in the state that addresses tourism with such high-quality speakers and such a regional scope.

“Even at the Governor’s Tourism Conference you don’t necessarily have all these people speaking trying to educate people about what they are doing and how (attendees) can be a part of it,” she said.

ecowan@durangoherald.com