Follow the money to find priorities of organization

Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 4:54 PM

These famous (or infamous) words by Deep Throat of Watergate fame have become a common sense way to determine the priorities and thought process of any organization.

That is, find out where the entity spends its money, and you can determine what the organization really believes is important, despite what it may say to the public.

On a more local perspective, most locals associate the Durango Welcome Center with DATO, the Durango Area Tourism Office. And yes, DATO runs the Welcome Center, but that is only about 10 percent of our operation, by budget. What do we spend the other 90 percent of our budget on?

One of my first duties as executive director of DATO when I took over last July was to prepare a preliminary budget and marketing plan for 2018 and present these plans to the city and county, the two governmental entities that contract with DATO to market Durango and La Plata County to the world.

In other words, we were required to tell our city and county officials what we were planning to do in 2018 and how much we were planning on spending to do it.

We expect to spend about $1.2 million on tourism marketing. This money comes primarily from the city and county lodgers tax, which is paid almost exclusively by visitors and not local residents.

As indicated above, we will spend less than 10 percent on running the Welcome Center. That is basically for rent and staffing those friendly and skilled people at the front desk who know everything about Durango and the surrounding area and are more than willing to answer visitors’ questions to make their stay here more fulfilling and interesting.

Our single largest expenditure comes from our marketing department, where we spend money on advertising in print and online media. For 2018, we are planning on spending about 27 percent of our budget on these efforts. In order to support these efforts, we also spend about 6 percent of our budget on tools to support our online efforts.

Our largest budget item is for our staff and associated personnel costs (like taxes and benefits), at 38 percent of our budget. At first blush, this may seem large, until you consider that nothing happens, no decisions are made, no work is done on planning, designing, marketing or anything else until the skill and experience and constant analysis made by our staff are brought to bear to support our efforts and to measure our effectiveness.

We also attract about 13.5 percent of our budget from grants, our own local advertising efforts, and co-op advertising where private entities like the train and DATO both contribute to a specific marketing effort.

Compared to Breckenridge, Denver or many of the Front Range communities, we spend just about the smallest amount per capita on tourism marketing than any other community in Colorado.

Consider also the fact that because of our efforts and those of our tourism partners in private business, we bring in more than $8 million each year in tax revenue for our city and county. That is a fabulous return (also known as ROI) on your tax dollars.

My next column will discuss how we make decisions on where to focus our efforts and money. It will include our analysis of demographics, geographics and return on specific investments in these areas to measure their effectiveness.

Contact Durango Area Tourism Office Executive Director Frank Lockwood at