A nice place to visit and live: New tourism director advocates for both

Elizabeth Fogarty oversees the operations of Visit Grand Junction, including the Grand Junction Visitor Center on Horizon Drive, as the new executive director of the organization. Fogarty says she wants to make sure the Grand Valley remains not only a nice place to visit, but also a nice place to live. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
Elizabeth Fogarty oversees the operations of Visit Grand Junction, including the Grand Junction Visitor Center on Horizon Drive, as the new executive director of the organization. Fogarty says she wants to make sure the Grand Valley remains not only a nice place to visit, but also a nice place to live. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Elizabeth Fogarty views her new role as not only involving efforts to market the Grand Valley as an attractive destination, but also managing that destination in a way that promotes quality of life — in other words, making sure it’s a nice place to visit and you’d want to live there.

Fogarty expects success on both counts based on the previous efforts of the organization with which she now works, collaboration with other organizations and the support of a community that already does a good job representing a desirable brand.

While tourism has become a fiercely competitive business on a global scale, the Grand Valley has a lot to offer, she says — in particular a more authentic experience people expect in Colorado, but might not find in other, more congested areas of the state.

For her part, Fogarty says she’s exciting about experiencing what the Grand Valley has to offer. “The area has always been on my radar. It’s a great place to live, first and foremost.”

Fogarty started her new job as executive director of Visit Grand Junction on March 5. She succeeds Debbie Kovalik, who retired after working 28 years as the first and only director of the organization.

Fogarty brings to the position an equally lengthy tenure of her own in the tourism and hospitality industry, most recently as president and chief executive officer of Visit Estes Park. She was involving in efforts to build on the attraction of Estes Park during the summer and promote year-round business. In 2016, Visit Estes Park won the Governor’s Award for the Best Marketing Campaign in Colorado. Before that, Fogarty worked as general manager of Estes Park Condos and was involved in Visit Estes Park and other organizations.

She studied marketing in college and subsequently worked in positions in marketing and sales in her native New York as well as California and Colorado, including a stint with the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. She’s also worked in consulting and business development.

Fogarty was among 116 applicants for the position with Visit Grand Junction. She says she was attracted to the community, the potential for marketing the destination and support from the city and residents to do that.

Fogarty says she expects to build on what she calls the “fantastic foundation” laid through the efforts of Kovalik and the staff and board of Visit Grand Junction.

Fogarty also says she expects to initially spend a lot of her time meeting and talking with people in the community even as she asks questions and gathers information. “I have a lot to learn.”

As executive director of Visit Grand Junction, Fogarty oversees a staff of nine and an annual budget of about $2 million. The organization is funded primarily by revenue from the lodging taxes imposed on hotel and motel stays.

While Visit Grand Junction is a tourism and destination marketing organization, Fogarty says it’s also important to manage the destination. Ensuring and investing in the quality of life for residents also attracts visitors. Destination management also means involving residents and other organizations in the process and listening to what they want in developing and representing the brand, she says. “We want to hear from the community. What are they passionate about?”

In Estes Park, Fogarty says she worked with residents, businesses and various groups to expand tourism business beyond the summer season and into the winter. The community enticed winter visitors with special events as well as cross-country skiing, hiking and simply relaxing. “You invite people and they will come.”

The Grand Valley has a lot to offer as well, Fogarty says, from the vineyards, orchards and other agricultural attractions around Palisade to the downtown shopping district in Grand Junction to the mountain biking around Fruita. That’s not to mention the Colorado National Monument and other federal lands that offer access to outdoor recreation.

Western Colorado in general and the Grand Valley specifically offers what Fogarty describes an authentic Colorado experience without the congestion that’s become prevalent in other areas of the state. It’s still possible to enjoy a quiet outdoor experience in the Grand Valley — to go hiking, for example, and not see anyone else. That makes it important to serve as responsible stewards who protect those kinds of experiences, she says.

The Grand Valley also offers collaboration Fogarty says makes destination marketing and management easier.

She cited as one example an effort involving Visit Grand Junction, the Grand Junction Economic Partnership and Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission to promote the Grand Valley as the outdoor recreation capital of Colorado — a destination not only for outdoor recreation, but also outdoor recreation businesses. A local delegation attended the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Denver as part of the campaign. Delegates met with more than 300 exhibitors to talk about business opportunities for outdoor-related companies. Efforts at the trade show were augmented by a marketing campaign that included billboards outside the Denver Convention Center, internal kiosks and digital and print advertising.

Fogarty says she expects to collaborate as well with representatives from the Grand Junction Regional Airport and Colorado Mesa University.

Collaborations could extend to funding, Fogarty says.

Under one proposal, city voters would be asked for approval to increase the lodging tax rate from 3 percent to 6 percent. While 1.25 percent of the increase would provide additional funding to Visit Grand Junction, 1 percent would go to the Grand Junction Regional Airport and 0.75 percent would go to the Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission. A measure seeking the lodging tax increase could appear on the November election ballot, she says. “It’s exciting to see that kind of partnership.”

An investment in promoting tourism pays off, Fogarty says.

An analysis presented in 2017 found that tourism accounts for more than 5,500 jobs and nearly $140 million in annual wages in Mesa County.

Tourism also helps to create a more diversified and therefore resilient economy, Fogarty says. The benefits extend to other industry sectors. “I don’t know of any industry tourism doesn’t touch.”

The tourism industry also improves the quality of life not only for visitors, but also residents, for its role in promoting restaurants, cultural events and other amenities. In making Grand Junction a nice place to visit, it also becomes a place where you’d want to live, Fogarty says.