Durango's tourism group finds new leader

Locally raised Patti O'Brien comes back home again

Patti O'Brien, executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office, receives documents about a contract from Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc on Friday morning in the Durango Welcome Center. O'Brien, who recently took the helm at DATO, says she wants to demonstrate how tourism helps the overall community. Enlarge photo

JOSH STEPHENSON/Durango Herald

Patti O'Brien, executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office, receives documents about a contract from Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc on Friday morning in the Durango Welcome Center. O'Brien, who recently took the helm at DATO, says she wants to demonstrate how tourism helps the overall community.

Patti O'Brien has come full circle.

She was raised in Durango and graduated from Durango High School before moving to California. Now she's the new executive director for the Durango Area Tourism Office, marketing the community she grew up in.

“I'm honored to represent Durango,” she said. “It's a dream job for me growing up here ... to come back and market our community.”

Susan Lander stepped in as interim executive director after John Cohen resigned from the position in May 2012 after leading the office for about six years.

O'Brien has owned several businesses, including an advertising agency in Long Beach, Calif., and a ladies gym in Durango. She got back into the corporate marketing world when she was hired on as the regional account manager for Buzztown, owned by Ballantine Digital Media – the same company that owns The Durango Herald.

Her Durango background is what pushed her to the front of the list of about 75 applicants for the job.

“She has a strong background in marketing and business ownership,” said DATO board member Kirk Komick. “She has a great passion for the area ... I think she has a really good personality for selling Durango and for working with constituents of the community.”

O'Brien started as the group sales manager for DATO in October and was hired as the executive director Jan. 1 and immediately began working with those constituents to promote collaboration among business owners.

One of her goals is to be more transparent with the community and release not only impact studies, but also demonstrating how tourism revenue is benefiting the community.

“I think knowledge is power, so the more the community understands the benefit of tourism dollars, the more empowered they'll be to work together to market ourselves,” she said.

O'Brien represented Durango businesses through her role at Buzztown, which was the perfect transition into her new job.

“I got to know so many business owners by representing them,” she said. “I got the perspective on what they're dealing with and how to market themselves in today's world.”

O'Brien said businesses are trying to navigate the ropes of an ever-changing online profile while maintaining a local connection.

She intends to harness the expanding online platforms into new ways to track how many people come to Durango each year, where they are from and how to make them stay longer.

She wants to set up a station in the Durango Welcome Center with iPads where visitors can enter their demographic information, as well as what they hope to get out of their trip and what brought them to the area.

Durango already has made a name for itself with multiple accolades, including a finalist for Outside magazine's “Best River Town in America” and named a “dream town” by skiingmag.com. Is it possible for the town to market itself more?

O'Brien thinks that not only has the town not reached its peak, but there is an untapped market here.

She wants to expand the Durango message to La Plata County and the surrounding areas such as national parks and public lands.

“We're a diverse town and have a lot of activities. I want to get the message out that you need more than one night in Durango,” she said. “I want to package us into a bigger destination where there is a lot to do.”

jdahl@durangoherald.com