Make it better the second time around

Annual tourist summit in Durango to focus on hands-on experiences

Organizers of this year’s Southwest Tourism Summit will include an ambassador program that educates attendees about Durango’s attractions, such as the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Enlarge photo

Durango Herald file photo

Organizers of this year’s Southwest Tourism Summit will include an ambassador program that educates attendees about Durango’s attractions, such as the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

The second annual Southwest Tourism Summit will focus on a theme of show, don’t tell.

The three-day conference, which will be held in Durango April 24-26, will have hands-on tours and demonstrations instead of presentations to give attendees an up-close view of successful ways to boost the tourism pie in Southwest Colorado and increase their share of it.

On the first day of the conference, which is geared toward local attendees, presenters will act out two new programs the Durango Area Tourism Office has been working on, said Patti O’Brien, executive director.

The first is a Durango ambassador program that educates local employees about Durango’s various amenities and attractions.

“If a waitperson is serving dinner and gets asked by diners what else they can do here, we’re going to give (the server) things to tell them,” O’Brien said.

The second program will recruit local actors to dress up in costume, say as a woman from the Victorian age or a famous Western character, and roam downtown and the Welcome Center during the height of tourist season answering visitor questions or giving directions.

The second day of the tourism summit will give attendees the opportunity to tour ranches, farms and restaurants that make up La Plata County’s agritourism sector.

“Agritourism has come a long way this year,” O’Brien said. “I don’t think (the presentation) was as hands on last year.”

Last year, more than 200 attendees attended the conference, and this year organizers are hoping to attract 250 to 300 people.

Many of the same presenters will take the stage, including Al White, director of the Colorado Tourism Office and Laura Grey, the state’s heritage and agritourism program manager.

White said he will talk about results of the state’s latest “Come to Life” ad campaign, which produced some “really startling results” in terms of its return on investment. The state office also will use the summit as an opportunity to roll out its newly completed strategic plan for the heritage and agritourism program.

Grey and other program organizers toured the state last fall to gather feedback about what the program should look like going forward.

Last year, some people thought the summit was focused on presenting ways to buy advertising but that’s a mistake, said Michelle Thom, general manager at Strater Hotel and an organizer of the conference.

“It’s more about what businesses can get for free,” Thom said. The key is networking, which is what this conference facilitates, Thom said.

Local restaurants, for example, could help a local farmer looking to get into the agritourism business by including the grower’s produce in its advertising materials, she said.

“We need to be better communicators and networkers together to see the bigger, broader picture of how that tourism dollar works for everybody,” Thom said.

ecowan@durangoherald.com