Travel and tourism outlook upbeat

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Barb Bowman

Barb Bowman takes into account a number of factors in her upbeat assessment for travel and tourism business in the Grand Valley.

The year is off to a comparatively good start, gasoline prices have dropped, pent-up demand for travel likely will be unleashed and a variety of upcoming events will draw people to the area.

“We’re really feeling good about things,” said Bowman, a division manager who oversees the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau.

While it could several more years before business returns to pre-recession levels, the trend is encouraging, Bowman said. “I think we’ve turned the corner.”

Lodging tax collections, one measure of the travel and tourism industry, have increased on a year-over-year basis.

According to the VCB report for May, nearly $93,000 in lodging taxes were collected. That’s a 6.8 percent increase over last year.

The latest gain brings total lodging tax collections reported so far for 2012 to almost $364,600, a 6.6 percent increase over the same span last year.

Since lodging tax reports lag a month behind, the May report reflects hotel and motel stays in April. Year-to-date numbers reflect hotel and motel stays between December and April.

Bowman expects lodging tax collections in 2012 to continue to outpace those in 2011 — but likely moderately so with a gain of about 3.6 percent.

While lodging tax collections continue to top those in 2011 and 2010, they remain well below those in 2008. It could take another two or three years of gains to return to that level, Bowman said.

Bowman blamed part of the difference on a decline in energy exploration and production activity in Western Colorado and a corresponding drop in hotel and motel stays for those working in the energy sector. The VCB is working to make up that difference in its efforts to attract more visitors to the Grand Valley, she said.

The recent drop in gasoline prices should help as people unleash what’s been several years of pent-up demand for travel, Bowman said.

The number and diversity of upcoming events in the Grand Valley also should help since events offer a compelling reason for people to travel — ranking second, in fact, behind visiting family and friends.

Organizers expect attendance at the Colorado Lavender Festival scheduled for July 6 to 8 in Palisade to top 4,000.

A regional swimming competition scheduled for August at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction could bring in another 3,000 people, Bowman said. “It’s huge.”

September is packed with events, including an air show, barbecue and beer festival, car show, dog show, horse shows and a rock music festival. That’s not to mention the Colorado Mountain Winefest, one of the biggest draws of all for the Grand Valley.

“It’s exciting,” Bowman said of the schedule of events.