Durango must invest to lure business travelers

Friday, Jan. 19, 2018 4:04 PM

Editor’s Note: This is part four of a four-part series on the Four Pillars of a Strong Tourism Community.Last time, I described the third pillar of a strong tourism economy, which is a community’s transportation system. Today’s column describes what it takes for a community with a vibrant tourism economy to break its dependency on the (sometimes fickle) leisure traveler. The fourth pillar of a vibrant, tourism economy is facilities.

One of my first official duties as executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office (DATO) was to attend the Summer Retreat of the Colorado Association of Destination Marketing Organizations (CADMO) in Boulder.

At that retreat, I learned that communities all over Colorado are investing in business and cultural infrastructure for the purpose of attracting a different kind of visitor to their towns.

Right now, the overwhelming majority of visitors to Durango are comprised of the classic “leisure traveler,” that is, usually a family that comes to Southwest Colorado for vacation fun. They come and go as they please, altering their plans depending on the weather or whim of any one member of the family.

Their length of stay is wholly dependent upon what attraction they intend on pursuing the next day. Generally speaking, since we are primarily a “drive market,” most of these visitors come from the great state of Texas, the second largest state (in terms of population) in the United States, and mostly to escape the sweltering heat during the summer months.

But there is another kind of traveler, one with a specific purpose, who would come to Durango to see a show or attend a business conference. This kind of traveler usually spends more money (or has his or her company pay for this trip and accommodations), has a specific itinerary already established for him or her, and rarely deviates from their established schedule.

The event and business meeting industry is alive and well throughout the United States, and over the top in places like Denver.

Denver, where the lodgers tax is 10.75 percent (Durango’s is 2 percent) and which maintains an occupancy rate of 85 percent year-round, had to reschedule or adjust venues for no less that 20 business conferences to accommodate the behemoth Outdoor Retailer semi-annual conference which left Utah to come to Colorado.

Denver, which will also be hosting the world’s largest international travel trade show this May, will soon be getting competition from none other than its former little sister, Aurora, which is closer to Denver International Airport than Denver itself and which is now building more than one-half million square feet of meeting and convention space. In addition to the above, Boulder, Fort Collins, Greeley and Colorado Springs are investing in facilities that attract the leisure and business traveler alike.

Until we, as a community, make the decision that investing in our infrastructure is worth it, we will be left with the remnants of the visitor industry. We will be limited in our efforts to attract the vital and growing business meeting and performing arts business which so many others have realized is the key to an economically sustainable future.

Contact Durango Area Tourism Office Executive Director Frank Lockwood at