Roaring Fork chambers gather to hear state perspective on tourism, legislative concerns
Prospects for a recession on the horizon has state tourism officials planning accordingly, Cathy Ritter, director of the Colorado Office of Tourism, said in a meeting with area chambers of commerce Thursday.
Whether an economic downturn is inevitable or not, some “anti-recession” strategies can be used in tourism promotion efforts to weather the storm, Ritter said at a “State of the State” business luncheon.
The event was hosted by chamber organizations in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Basalt and Aspen at the Aspen Glen Club outside Carbondale.
Ritter talked about current tourism trends in the state. Colorado Chamber legislative affairs specialist Loren Furman spoke about upcoming legislative matters that could impact businesses across the state.
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“The reason the tourism industry is so sensitive to the possibility of a recession is because travel is one of those areas where people cut back first when there’s an economic downturn,” Ritter said.
Following the 2008 recession, Colorado tourism officials took a close look at traveler intentions when it came to choosing a destination, and how that changed when money was tight.
The top considerations — time available, finances available, perceived affordability, and interest in travel — changed the messaging, Ritter said.
“Our messaging has to be the kind of messaging that will withstand an economic downtown,” she said. “We don’t want to have our messaging out of kilter with consumers’ opinions.”
Glenwood Springs was one of the beneficiaries of that traveler mindset in the years immediately following the recession, observed Lisa Langer, director of tourism promotion for the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.
While visitor numbers dropped off initially, they began to rebound as regional travelers sought closer destinations, rather than booking bigger vacations elsewhere.
“We’re right on I-70, we have so much to offer and we’re still affordable,” Langer said.
Another promotional effort that grew out of that time period was a greater focus on international tourism, she said. When the U.S. dollar is weaker, foreign visitors are more likely to be lured to places like Colorado, Langer said.
Colorado has seen a steady trajectory of tourism growth since the last recession, Ritter said, noting that spending by travelers to Colorado has grown by 65% since 2009, compared to 46% nationally.
Those visitors have spent an average of 5.7% more each year since that time, compared to a 4.3% growth rate nationally, she said.
This year, even though the inventory of hotel rooms increased by 3% statewide, occupancy has been up and the average daily room rate continues to rise.
In Glenwood Springs, average occupancy of available rooms increased from 64.1% last year to 66.4% through July of this year. Aspen lodging has also seen growth from 68.6% of rooms occupied on average last year, to 70.5% this year, according to the latest statistics in the Rocky Mountain Lodging Report.
Colorado.com also remains one of top performing state websites in the country, Ritter said. Of 10.8 million visitors to the site last year, 40% ended up visiting a Colorado destination.
While tourism continues to flourish in Colorado, there are a host of concerns for businesses large and small resulting from various legislative initiatives, said Furman, the senior vice president of state and federal relations for the Colorado Chamber of Commerce.
The 2019 state legislative session — which Furman referred to as the “worst ever” for business interests — was challenging, with a host of measures deemed anti-business in some circles being pass into law.
However, that also prompted chambers to work more closely together to make sure business voices are being heard, she said.
The failed paid family medical leave bill was one example, Furman said.
Chamber lobbyists worked hard to offer up some solutions that weren’t reflected in the bill, which ultimately didn’t have enough votes to pass. A task force that’s now been set up to study the issue before a new bill is introduced does have chamber representation at the table, she said.
“When you’ve got such a large coalition of interests that are working together, wanting to find a solution on a very controversial piece of legislation, this was an example of success,” Furman said.
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