Business going well? Hug a tourist

According to the latest results of an economic analysis, Grand Valley business owners and managers can thank tourists for at least a portion of their sales.

The exact portion depends, of course, on the business. Hotels and motels, for example, rely nearly entirely on tourists. But restaurants and retailers also can attribute revenue to tourism to a lesser degree. Ultimately, nearly everyone benefits as tourism dollars from outside the community circulate in the community.

The big picture? Tourism is big business in Mesa County — to the tune of more than 5,500 jobs and nearly $140 million in annual wages, according to a study conducted by economist Tucker Hart Adams.

The results of a survey of more than 1,100 visitors conducted in 2015 and 2016 offer a more detailed look at who comes to Mesa County, why and what they do when they get here.

Most visitors come from Colorado, are well-educated and affluent — both good things — but also older. Nearly three-fourths of visitors spend one or two nights in Mesa County for vacations, visiting friends or relatives, attending events or just passing through. The Colorado National Monument remains the most popular tourist attraction, although visitors also eat in restaurants, go shopping and visit wineries and breweries. Mountain biking, fishing, hunting and other outdoor recreational pursuits have become increasingly important components of the travel industry as well, Adams says.

Health care providers and Colorado Mesa University also play important roles in bringing visitors to the area, Adams says, whether they’re patients, students, parents or sports fans attending a game. In conducting its own economic analysis, CMU attributed an estimated $37.4 million in annual spending to visitors to CMU who come to Grand Junction for athletic and cultural events, conferences and other activities.

Tourism benefits the economy in still other ways in bringing visitors back to the Grand Valley, sometimes to relocate their businesses. That’s especially true of the link between the variety of outdoor recreational activities available close by and outdoor recreation companies operating here.

Looking beyond the quantitative effects of tourism, Adams says there are also qualitative effects, among them the events, golf courses, restaurants and other amenities residents enjoy without any travel involved.

Overall, the analysis confirms what’s long been described as the silver lining to the dark clouds that have hung over the Grand Valley in the aftermath of downturns in the economy and energy development.

The numbers also confirm the importance of efforts to promote tourism as well as the potential returns on an even greater investment in funding those efforts. That’s something to think about, isn’t it?

There’s a bumper sticker that illustrates sustaining relationships. The wording on the sticker poses a rhetorical question: “Have you eaten today?” The wording then encourages readers to hug a farmer.

Businesses that sell goods and services today similarly should remain at least a bit appreciative of tourists and the economic benefits they bring to the Grand Valley. It probably wouldn’t be out of line if business owners and managers want to express that appreciation with a hug.