Phil Castle, The Business Times
Barbara Bowman has seen the views from the Devils Kitchen picnic area in the Colorado National Monument a thousand times. A slick rock canyon opens nearby, the bottom clogged with a jumble of boulders. The Grand Valley lies in the distance, the Bookcliffs and Grand Mesa delineating the horizon. Taking in the sights from one of her favorite spots never disappoints, Bowman says. “It’s still an amazing place every time.”
As if her effusive praise wasn’t proof enough of her admiration for the scenic landscape, how about those small metal objects dangling from her ears? They’re tiny versions of Independence Monument, the iconic monolith that towers close by.
For a woman who’s spent nearly three decades promoting the attractions of the Grand Valley to tourists around the world, there’s no distinction between pleasure and business. One has everything to do with the other, Bowman says. “Passion is the key. Passion for this community has always been the key to our success.”
Among the first new hires to work at what’s now Visit Grand Junction and half of what developed into a statewide reputation as a dynamic duo that included former director Debbie Kovalik, Bowman has played a role in a lot of successful endeavors over the years: bringing more international visitors to the area, branding the Grand Valley as Colorado’s wine country and foreseeing in almost prescient fashion the importance of the Internet in destination marketing.
Bowman has retired from her position as division director of Visit Grand Junction, but expects to continue working on her own as a consultant, helping organizations and businesses and promoting an industry she says not only drives the economy but also makes for a better place to live.
Efforts to take Grand Valley destination marketing to the next level and an opportunity for Grand Junction voters to increase the lodging tax to further fund those efforts bodes well for the future, Bowman says.
It’s a group effort that requires the collaboration of government organizations, hotels and restaurants as well as the hospitality of a welcoming populace, she adds. “It takes all the partners to make a destination attractive. It’s a formula for success for sure.”
Kovalik hired Bowman in 1991, among the first employees of what was at the time the newly created Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau. Bowman brought to the job experience born of her love for travel.
Bowman grew up in Denver and earned a bachelor’s degree in recreation from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She subsequently lived and worked in Germany and traveled throughout Europe and Africa.
Bowman returned to the United States, and worked for travel agencies. She married and moved with her husband to Western Colorado when he relocated for jobs in Gunnison and then Grand Junction. Bowman handled guest services for a hotel in Crested Butte and then sales for a radio station in Grand Junction before joining what was at the time the VCB as director of sales.
Bowman says her first impression of Kovalik was of a woman with lots of energy and vision who also shared her work ethic. Kovalik would come up with ideas for marketing and Bowman says she’d figure out how to make it happen.
Bowman says Kovalik always supported her efforts to develop the Grand Valley as a destination for international tourists, including those traveling in groups. While international tourists constitute a smaller segment of the market, it’s a lucrative segment in that those tourists tend to stay longer and spend more money.
At the same time, Bowman says she worked to establish relationships with travel and tourism professionals around the state in part to bring more meeting business to Grand Junction.
Taking advantage of a growing wine industry to distinguish the Grand Valley from other destinations in Colorado, Kovalik and Bowman branded the Grand Valley as Colorado’s wine country and worked with Amtrak to bring “wine trains” from Denver for a weekend of touring wineries, sampling wines — and buying wines. That’s not to mention efforts to establish the Colorado Mountain Winefest in Palisade, an annual event showcasing Colorado wines that’s become one of the top festivals in the United States.
Kovalik and Bowman also were involved in another pioneering effort when was at the time the VCB launched one of the first destination tourism websites in Colorado — before Denver, Bowman says. The move was prescient, Bowman says, in foreseeing the way the Internet and websites would change the travel industry.
If anything, change is a constant in the industry, Bowman says. But the Grand Valley remains well positioned to compete in a global market. Wineries, outdoor recreation, the downtown shopping district and Colorado Mesa University all help to make the Grand Valley an attractive and diverse destination, she says. A central location with easy access by highway and rail as well as commercial air service help, too.
Bowman says she remains grateful to have worked so long in the travel and tourism industry, to develop so many relationships over the years and enjoy the support of the community. “We’re all in it for the season reason, and that’s to build business in Grand Junction and make the economy grow.”
Bowman expects to continue to promote the Grand Valley in operating the Bowman and Associates consulting firm, whether that’s helping organizations or individual businesses. “I think it’ll be evolution as I see what people need.”
One of her tasks could require her to lead what’s called familiarization tours and showing people the sights — including, perhaps, those from the Devils Kitchen picnic area in the Colorado National Monument. The reaction of those visiting the area for the first time is almost always the same, she says. “They’re stunned and astonished.”