Here’s to ideal leadership for an ideal industry

Try to envision the ideal industry for the Grand Valley. It would be clean, create lots of jobs and bring in money from outside the area. Moreover, this industry would generate additional sales for other businesses that provide needed products and services.

What comes to mind? Perhaps some sort of high-tech manufacturing? Maybe software development?

How about tourism?

According to the results of an analysis presented earlier this year, tourism accounts for more than 5,500 jobs and nearly $140 million in annual wages in Mesa County. That’s big business. Among the biggest.

Business owners and managers should be grateful for the role of the tourism industry in strengthening and diversifying the economy. While they’re at it, they also should be grateful for the woman who for nearly 30 years has worked so zealously to entice more visitors to our Grand Valley.

Let’s get one thing straight: Tourism marketing remains very much a team sport. Credit for success rightly goes to the staff and volunteers who work so hard to make that happen. Success also depends on partnerships on local, state, national and even international levels.

Nonetheless, the Grand Valley has enjoyed the benefits of the tourism industry in part because of the leadership of Debbie Kovalik, the first and only executive director of what’s now Visit Grand Junction.

During her 28-year tenure, Kovalik has assembled a team of proficient professionals that rank among the best in the travel business. Kovalik and Barb Bowman, a division director at Visit Grand Junction who was Kovalik’s second hire, have been an especially dynamic duo over the years.

Moreover, Kovalik has been adept at recognizing and capitalizing on the opportunities that have come along.

Here’s a prime example. In 1995, what was at the time the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau launched the first destination website in Colorado. The organization was almost prescient in foreseeing the indispensable role of the Internet in tourism marketing. It’s difficult now to imagine how the travel industry would function without the Internet.

Here’s another example. Kovalik and the VCB took advantage of the growing wine industry in the Grand Valley to brand the area as Colorado’s wine country and differentiate this area from other destinations in the state. It’s a symbiotic relationship that’s now taken almost as a given. Of course the Grand Valley and wine industry go together.

Kovalik has announced her plans to retire in February. She expects to do some traveling of her own — visiting grandchildren, reconnecting with old friends and pursuing adventures she says she’s yet to discover. God speed.

The Grand Valley will sorely miss the leadership and talents Kovalik has brought to tourism marketing over nearly three decades. But the area remains well positioned to continue to benefit from tourism. There’s a growing effort, in fact, to make other important connections among tourism, outdoor recreation and the manufacturers who make products for outdoor recreation.

Here’s to what could be the ideal industry — and the woman who’s been an ideal leader.