In uncertain times, just go with what you know

Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 7:44 PM

I‘ll have to apologize. It may be that time of the year for articles, columns and TV programs that recap the past year or more boldly cast predictions on what the new year might bring, but I just can’t do that this year because 2016 is unexplainable and 2017 is unfathomable.

Frankly, if there was ever a time not to try to make sense of last year or predict what will happen next year, this is it. I ain’t no fool.

What I do know is that, locally, our tourism industry has had a good year. In fact we’ve had six straight years of increases. But why did we have such good results and feel so confounded? When I talk to local business leaders who depend on the tourist dollar, the most common comment I’ve heard is, “I can’t explain 2016. It was just plain weird. Our business was good, but we have no idea why.”

Most people agree. The weather patterns were out of sync, a pretty good economy was offset by a pretty bad energy industry, and that year-long election circus had everyone in a very strange mood. So, since we can’t do anything about the weather, the economy or national politics, we’ll be focusing on things more certain.

We have a good handle on what we’ll be doing in 2017. That starts with a clear purpose. “The Durango Area Tourism Office (DATO) is an independent, non-profit organization established in 2002 for the purpose of promoting the city of Durango and La Plata County area as a tourist destination. We engage in destination sales and marketing activities, and provide visitor services to groups and tourists. The role of the DATO is to build brand awareness, attract visitors to the area, inform them about visitor opportunities, and stimulate the tourist economy.” If that sounds official, that’s because it comes right out of the bylaws.

Our funding source is generated by the city and county tax on overnight lodgers, which supports our operating and marketing budget. Durango’s image and awareness of our many destination activities and attractions is well established in the traditional drive-in markets of Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California. The marketing plan is firing on all cylinders, including domestic and international advertising, group sales and services, media relations and social media. In short, the tourism team is solid, focused and ready for 2017. And Durango certainly has momentum in its corner.

We’re certain that the national attention on the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Parks system will continue to draw many new visitors to Mesa Verde, that the railroad’s popular new promotions like the Polar Express will continue to improve wintertime business, and that new investment and upgrades at Purgatory Resort will create interest and excitement.

OK, I guess I am a fool. I’ll predict a repeat of a weird 2016 with solid sales and a lodgers tax increase of 3 percent and 5 percent, respectively. And of course the weather will be sunny everywhere. Bob Kunkel is executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office.