Grand Valley tourism industry rebounding

Brad Taylor
Brad Taylor
Mistalyn Meyeraan
Mistalyn Meyeraan

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Tourism activity has rebounded in Mesa County, according to a key indicator that’s climbed to its highest level since before the recession.

And that’s good news for an industry sector that’s estimated to bring in nearly $270 million a year in direct spending, generate $8 million in local taxes and account for more than 3,000 jobs.

“We’re back,” said Brad Taylor, the chairman of the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau board of directors.

Mistalynn Meyeraan, marketing and public relations coordinator for the VCB, agreed. “It is solid.”

Taylor and Meyeraan discussed the tourism industry and its contributions to the local economy as part of efforts during National Travel & Tourism Week to raise awareness about the importance of the sector.

“People need to see the economic benefit of tourism,” Taylor said.

Meyeraan cited a number of metrics the VCB tracks, chief among them lodging tax collections from hotel and motel stays.

For 2014, lodging tax collections topped $1.25 million. That total constituted a
4.3 percent increase over 2013 and the highest level since 2008, when almost $1.5 million in lodging taxes were collected.

Through the first quarter of 2015, $192,020 in lodging taxes were collected. That’s a 5.2 percent increase over the first quarter of 2014.

Visits to the VCB Web site, a number Meyeraan considers a signal of intention to travel to the Grand Valley, totaled nearly 522,000 in 2014. That’s a nearly 30 percent increase over 2013. Web site visits topped 140,000 for the first quarter of 2015, a
66.4 percent jump over the same span in 2014.

Meyeraan said the growing number of Web site visits reflects ongoing efforts to accommodate the increasing use of smart phones and other mobile devices to obtain information about travel both before and during trips.

Taylor and Meyeraan attributed the increasing tourism metrics to a number of factors, starting with the attractions, activities and events bringing visitors to the Grand Valley.

According to the results of the 2014 Dean Runyan Colorado Tourism Impacts Study, vacations, winery tours and tastings and outdoor activities rank among the top reasons people visit the Grand Valley.

Taylor said Grand Junction serves as a “gateway community” to a number of regional and local attractions, including national parks and the Colorado National Monument. State parks along the Colorado River that’ve been described as a “string of pearls” also bring visitors to the area, he said.

There’s been increased interest as well in luxury offerings, including golf outings, winery tours and resort accommodations, Meyeraan said.

Conventions and meetings also bring people to Grand Junction, she said. In 2014, more than 20,000 people visited the area for conventions and meetings.

A range of events also draw visitors, she said, including everything from bicycle races to country and rock music festivals to the annual peach and wine festivals in Palisade. This year will be especially, busy, she added.

While the VCB markets the Grand Valley as “Colorado Wine Country,” that serves as what Meyeraan calls an umbrella  brand. “We still talk about it all.”

While about half of visitors to the area come from Colorado, they also come from  Arizona, California and Texas. Salt Lake City in Utah also has become a growing market, Meyeraan said.

The Grand Valley remains a draw for international travelers as well, including  visitors from Canada, China, Germany and the United Kingdom. Many of the international travelers come to the area on tours and as part of packages, and the VCB markets accordingly, Meyeraan said.

Regardless of why visitors come to the area and from where, the economic effects of tourism are significant, Taylor and Meyeraan said.

According to the Colorado Travel Impacts study, about 1 million visitors use lodging properties in Mesa County each year. Visitors directly spend a total of $269 million annually. Travel to Mesa County also generates $8 million in local taxes a year and supports more than 3,000 local jobs. Meyeraan said tourism ranks among the top five sectors in Mesa County in terms of its economic effects.

Taylor said there’s another benefit of tourism in introducing visitors to the area and enticing them to move here and establish businesses. “If we can bring them here and get them to buy into what we have, that’s economic development.”

Given the indicators and other industry trends, Meyeraan said the outlook for the rebounding tourism sector remains bright. “We’re so excited, and that’s not an understatement.”