Here’s to promoting the perfect industry

Try to imagine for a moment the perfect industry. No doubt the first important attribute would be that the industry pulls fresh money into the Grand Valley rather than recirculate existing dollars. While we’re at it, let’s make the industry a clean one that doesn’t require a lot of natural resources or produce a lot of waste. It would be helpful, too, if the industry not only stimulated business for existing companies, but helped in recruiting new companies.

So what did you envision? Computer software development? Business consulting services?

How about tourism?

The tourism industry brings visitors and their money to the Grand Valley, putting heads in hotel beds and rears in restaurant seats. A pristine environment is a plus. What’s more, tourism inspires some people who enjoy the setting and lifestyle to come back to live and relocate their businesses in the process.

What makes the tourism industry especially appealing, though, is that it’s already well-established as an economic driver and the Grand Valley enjoys a competitive advantage as an attractive destination.

At a time when other industry sectors and overall economy continue to struggle in the aftermath of a recession, the tourism industry constitutes a silver lining. Lodging tax collections, one measure of one aspect of tourism, have increased 6.7 percent over last year as local hotel and motel business rebounds to pre-recession levels. Moreover, the outlook for the busy summer tourism season is upbeat as a result of comparatively low gasoline prices, increased attendance at national parks as part of promotions of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and pent-up demand for travel.

OK. So far, so good. But what about the economic contributions of the tourism industry? As it turns out, the tourism business is big business.

The Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau is in the process of calculating just how big. But the results of a study conducted in 2014 estimated the tourism industry brings in nearly $270 million a year in direct spending, accounts for 3,000 jobs and generates $8 million in tax revenues.

The National Park Service calculated that the nearly 600,000 visitors to the Colorado National Monument in 2015 contributed $45 million to the local economy.

Over the short term, increased business in the tourism industry has helped to offset some of the decreased business in other industries, most notably an energy industry challenged by low commodity prices. Over the long-term, the tourism industry can play an important role along with the health care industry and Colorado Mesa University in diversifying the local economy and in turn making it less vulnerable to market cycles in the energy sector.

The tourism industry also fits like a hand in a glove with other economic development efforts, including those intended to promote manufacturing for outdoor recreation. It’s not hard to imagine a mountain biking enthusiast who enjoys the world-class trails here wanting to relocate her mountain biking business here.

In deliberating their funding and policy priorities, local officials would do well to remember not only the important role tourism already plays in the Grand Valley economy, but also the potential for an even bigger role.

Tourism could well be the perfect industry.