Tourism outlook upbeat

Barb Bowman, division manager of the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau, shows off some of the promotional materials at the Grand Junction Visitor Center. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle
Barb Bowman, division manager of the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau, shows off some of the promotional materials at the Grand Junction Visitor Center. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Barb Bowman holds great expectations for tourism in the Grand Valley not only the busy summer season, but also the increasingly prominent role the sector plays in the local economy.

“It’s good news. I mean, it really is,” said Bowman, division manager of the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau.

Bowman bases her upbeat outlook on what she said was an aggregation of factors, among them  growing lodging tax collections from hotel and motel stays, events and meetings that bring people to the Grand Valley and the efforts of the VCB in conjunction with other local and state groups to market the area.

Brad Taylor
Brad Taylor

Brad Taylor, chairman of the VCB board of directors, added another factor to the list: the attraction of the Colorado National Monument, Grand Mesa, outdoor recreation and wineries. “Certainly, we have an excellent product.”

Bowman said the implications for the broader Grand Valley economy are promising given the tourism industry brings in an estimated $270 million a year in direct spending and accounts for more than 3,000 jobs. “We are a huge economic driver.”

One measure of one aspect of tourism business in the Grand Valley continues to trend upward.

The VCB reported collecting nearly $108,199 in lodging taxes in May. That’s an increase of $6,993 and 6.9 percent over the same month last year and the most collections for a May since 2008. May collections reflect hotel and motel stays in April.

The latest gain brings year-to-date lodging tax collections to $406,768, an increase of $25,556 and 6.7 percent over last year. Bowman said she expects lodging tax collections for 2016 to top 2015 by 8 percent as the hospitality business returns to pre-recession levels.

A number of factors bode well for  strong summer tourism, Bowman said, including 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.

The Grand Valley attracts most of its visitors from within Colorado, but Texas, Illinois and California also rank among the top states from which tourists come, Bowman said. The Grand Valley also draws international travelers, including those from Canada, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.

Vacations, winery tours and outdoor activities constitute some of the top reasons people visit the Grand Valley. The Colorado National Monument, Grand Mesa, downtown Grand Junction, area wineries and public lands constitute some of the top attractions.

According to the latest results of an annual analysis conducted by the National Park Service, the Colorado National Monument  attracted 588,006 visitors in 2015.

Special events also bring people to the Grand Valley, and Bowman said the Junior College Baseball World Series and Palisade Bluegrass and Roots Festival already have bolstered the summer tourism season with strong attendance. Attendance at Country Jam totaled 90,000 over the four-day music festival.

The VCB also works to bring meetings and conventions to the Grand Valley, and Bowman said she’s hopeful a number of events will be held in Grand Junction in coming years. That includes the Governor’s Conference on Tourism and annual meeting of Downtown Colorado.

Regardless of why visitors come to the Grand Valley or from where, the marketing efforts of the VCB in conjunction with other local and state groups have paid off, Bowman said.

The VCB participates in a variety of tourism and industry trade shows and expositions and joins in advertising and promotional efforts with the Colorado Tourism Office, Bowman said.

The VCB also works with the City of Fruita and Town of Palisade, she said. “It’s really been a valley wide effort.”

In addition to traditional and digital advertising, the Grand Valley has benefited from coverage in regional, national and even international media outlets resulting from public relations efforts, Bowman said. By one estimate, media coverage during 2015 was featured in outlets with an estimated total 300 million impressions and was equivalent to more than $400,000 worth of advertising.

The VCB Internet Web site located at www.visitgrandjunction.com remains one of the most effective promotional tools of all, Bowman said, with more than 690,000 total visits in 2015.

The various numbers add up to what Bowman said is an increasingly important sector for the Grand Valley economy.

According to the National Park Service analysis, visitors to the Colorado National Monument helped contribute $45 million to the local economy in 2015.

The VCB is in the process this year of  conducting an economic impact analysis, Bowman said.

But according to the results of a 2014 Dean Runyan Colorado tourisms impacts study, the industry sector contributes
$270 million a year in direct spending, accounts for more than 3,000 jobs and generates $8 million in taxes.

“We are stimulating business. There’s no doubt about it,” Bowman said.

Taylor said tourism not only helps hotels and motels in putting “heads in beds,” but also promotes economic development in another way. Some people who visit the Grand Valley want to live and do business here, he said.