The future of tourism bright for Durango

An effective organization constantly looks at where it has been and what lies ahead. The Durango Area Tourism Office is doing just that.

As bikes, kayaks and lawn mowers are put away in favor of skis, sleds and winter boots, DATO is looking at what has worked to attract tourists while planning for the coming shoulder season, winter and 2013.

By all accounts, 2012 has been a solid year for tourism in the Durango area. City lodgers-tax collections are up 10.7 percent year-to-date and have been up six of seven months, including the last five consecutive months. Sales-tax collections for the city of Durango and La Plata County are up 6.3 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively.

The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, our summer season kickoff, was sold out months in advance for the 2012 Memorial Day weekend and drew large crowds. Monsoonal rains arrived in the nick of time, and our area was spared from major forest fires, allowing for strong Fourth of July travel (sans fireworks). The USA Pro Cycling Challenge provided new and impressive media exposure for our area, and our tourism should benefit for years to come.

Looking ahead, the “shoulder seasons” in Durango have been challenging for tourism. Back-to-school and unpredictable changing weather patterns are among the factors that account for our off-peak visitation during those months. DATO will be focusing more on promoting our fantastic art, culture, culinary and heritage offerings to increase tourism and tax collection during these periods. This is all part of DATO’s role of marketing a four-season destination to unique target markets.

An example of a great program that encompasses multiple venues is “First Thursdays Art Walk,” coordinated by the Durango Arts Center. Regardless of the weather, we can show our travelers a fabulous sampling of galleries, museums, restaurants and live music. As locals, we can enjoy and support arts and culture businesses while the roads and sidewalks are less crowded.

Looking toward 2013, DATO’s staff, marketing committee and finance committee have been busy compiling tourism research, writing operating plans and budgeting for 2013. We are reviewing both primary tourism feeder markets as well as target demographic and psychographic visitors. While keeping our mission at the forefront of our planning – generating visitation and overnight stays in La Plata County – we are working to ensure that we maximize every dollar in our budget.

Data indicate that every $1 spent promoting Colorado brings in more than $12 in tourism spending. That is a healthy return on investment for our local economy. DATO is taking great care in planning, enabling tourism to continue to be a top economic driver for our area.

If you own or work in a tourism-related business, contact our staff or stop by the Durango Welcome Center and share your ideas or ask us questions. While we have much to be thankful for and we are encouraged about our future, we need to work together to keep our tourism sector strong and vibrant. All in all, things in the rearview mirror look pretty good, and the road ahead looks promising. Kris Oyler is chairman of the Durango Area Tourism Office board of directors.