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Fire didn’t destroy economy nor dampen spirit

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Thursday, July 26, 2018 10:14 PM

Last week, I reported to the Durango City Council on the “State of Tourism” in light of the 416 Fire. Here is a summary of that report:

Tourism comprises 25 percent of our economy, therefore, many businesses in Durango were not impacted by the fire. Of course, there were exceptions. Outdoors industries, such as river rafting, were down as much as 40 percent over June 2017, compounded by low water levels due to winter’s lacking snowfall.

While many hotels held steady occupancy rates, revenues were off due to discounted room rates for firefighters and evacuees, while others reported an increase over June 2017.

Larger restaurants with more tables to fill reported being down – one so much as 35 percent – but most reported being only slightly down, around 10 to 15 percent, and could mitigate lost revenue by cutting back on expenses.

One art gallery reported being down 18 percent over June 2017. The Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad canceled 26,000 riders in June, and at an average rate of $100 per passenger, that’s a $2.6 million revenue loss.

Not to mention Purgatory Resort, which essentially lost the entire month of June’s summer activities and associated lodging revenues.

Those hit the hardest were businesses and employees in Silverton, as well as local employees furloughed by the train and Purgatory.

This prompted Mike Burns of Alpine Bank, along with Durango Area Tourism Office and a group of civic leaders to form Southwest Colorado Disaster Assistance (SWCODA.org) in support of community relief efforts for Durango and Silverton. Working together with the Community Foundation, an effort was organized to connect those willing to help with those in need, while working to raise funds for the Community Emergency Relief Fund.

To date, nearly $300,000 has been raised for this effort. Funds are currently being distributed to those who lost employment or who were evacuated due to the 416 Fire. Phase III is in the works to support small businesses and the nonprofit community.

DATO’s newly formed partnership with Mesa Verde may have helped offset some of the tourism-related losses due to the 416 Fire. In June, 7,166 Mesa Verde National Park ranger-led tour tickets were sold at the Durango Welcome Center. That’s 239 tickets sold every day while the fire was burning – a godsend for tourism during this trying time.

Roughly 75 percent of these visitors say they were referred to Durango by the National Park Service or Mesa Verde Museum Association. This arrangement potentially attracted an additional 5,374 people to visit Durango during an otherwise challenging month for tourism, and that’s great news!

This past weekend, Sky Ute Casino Resort hosted the annual Shoshone Nation Reunion, filling up approximately 350 hotel rooms in Durango. We will continue to develop this mutually beneficial partnership with Sky Ute and the Southern Ute Tribe moving forward.

The Business Improvement District donated $10,000 to DATO for advertising in the month of July to inform people that Durango is open for business. Increased Colorado.com native ad placements offered an additional 160,000 impressions, which are being matched by the Colorado Tourism Office for a total of 320,000 additional impressions. Colorado.com is the official website of the Colorado Tourism Office and one of Durango’s biggest lead generators.

To further support local businesses and entice visitation this summer, Bank of Colorado is giving away a $100 gift card every day for 40 days to Durango visitors that shop local, backed by promotional support from BID, DATO and the Durango Chamber of Commerce.

In other news, Durango was named to Budget Travel’s Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America List. To leverage this award, DATO will divert $20,000 of its advertising budget to BudgetTravel.com, the online subsidiary of Lonely Planet. Budget Travel has more than half a million subscribers and is one of the leading media outlets dedicated to travel.

Finally, Durango also received good press from USA Today on the train museum, 5280 Magazine’s “Guide to the Four Corners,” VinePair magazine’s “Brew Train” and the Albuquerque Journal’s two-part series on Durango. These results came from the efforts of DATO’s public relations contractor, Theresa Graven with Treehouse Communications.

Clearly, the 416 Fire did not destroy Durango’s economy, nor did it dampen the spirit of our community.

If anything, Durango doubled-down on its efforts and will keep moving forward.

Contact Durango Area Tourism Office Executive Director Frank Lockwood at frank@durango.org.

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