Travel and tourism outlook improving for Grand Valley

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Debbie Kovalik believes the new normal for the travel and tourism industry in the Grand Valley soon will look like the old normal, meaning more visitors and more business for hotels, restaurants and retailers.

“It’s better than it has been, and that’s exciting,” said Kovalik, director of the economic, convention and visitor services department for the City of Grand Junction. That department includes the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau.

Kovalik said she bases her optimistic outlook on a number of factors, among them growing attendance at local events, more conventions and projected growth in travel. That’s not to mention an award-winning website and other online efforts to turn people considering traveling to Grand Junction into people who actually come here.

The implications are important, Kovalik said, because the travel and tourism sector offers the potential to drive economic recovery faster than other industry sectors.

According to monthly reports for 2013, a total of $1.2 million was collected in lodging taxes in Grand Junction, one measure of hotel and motel stays. That number was 1.3 percent less what was collected for the same span the year before. Because tax reports lag a month behind, the latest reports reflected travel business between December 2012 and November 2013.

Kovalik projects lodging tax collections for 2014 to increase 3.5 percent over 2013.

Kovalik said the increasing number of events that bring visitors to the Grand Valley constitute not only a good base for the travel and tourism industry, but also an opportunity for growth. All of those events will be staged again in 2014. Increasing attendance at each event by even a small proportion would result in hundreds of thousands of additional dollars for local businesses, she said.

The number of conventions coming to Grand Junction in 2014 has increased to six, she said. And bookings at Two Rivers Convention Center for 2014 are ahead of what was booked at this time last year, she added.

Global and national travel are expected to increase this year, and Grand Junction is well-positioned to take advantage of that trend, Kovalik said A nearly 20-year investment in the VCB website at and repeated improvements to the website and social media efforts have returned benefits, she said.

The VCB reported nearly 375,000 unique visits to the website during 2013, an almost 59 percent increase over 2012.  A redesigned mobile website resulted in a

318 percent increase in visits and 448 percent increase in page views over 2012.

Coming changes to the website will enable visitors to book hotel and motel rooms online as well as allow the VCB to track hotel business in real time, Kovalik said. Users also will be to purchase tickets to local attractions.

Yet another new feature will detect where a website user is located and tailor content to users from that area, she added.

In addition, visitors and resident alike will be encouraged to share their photos of the Grand Valley through social media.

Any and all efforts to promote travel and tourism are important, Kovalik said, because analyses show the sector is not only an important economic driver, but also one with the potential to quickly promote growth.

And that’s got Kovalik feeling more upbeat that after years in which flat was the new normal, increasing travel and tourism business will return to the Grand Valley.

“I really do think we’re moving to a new normal.”