The accepted model for tourism funding is to pass state or local legislation that creates a low percentage room tax with revenues dedicated to market the community.
It works like this in Durango: The overnight visitor pays, the lodging community collects, the local municipalities fund, the tourism entity promotes and the measure of success is “heads-in-beds.” After 36 years of repetition, that model is becoming obsolete.
Tourism grew from the vision of a few entrepreneurs willing to take a risk, and they built the railroad, historic hotels and the ski area. Later came more individuals offering permitted recreation like rafting, jeep tours, mountain biking and guided excursions on natural features or public lands. Looking back, our tourism development has generally been achieved by hope and happenstance. That’s OK because it got us where we are. In fact, that’s how America was built. But, that model is also becoming obsolete because the future demands a “we’re-all-in-this-together” approach.
Our local leadership entities operate mostly on their own, much like silos. This is more typical than unusual, but other communities are embracing new approaches to getting things done. The problem with a “sum-of-the-silos” approach is that hope and happenstance is not a strategy. Today, we recognize that all economic sectors, public and private, contribute to the whole and all are interrelated. Actions taken by one affects all others.
For example, while tourism is one of our community’s most reliable economic drivers, it is (but should not be) considered mutually exclusive from all other economic sectors. Tourism promotion is a front door to economic prosperity because tourism attracts more than tourists. Nobody invests in a community, moves here, starts a business, enrolls in college or retires here without first visiting the community. Tourism promotion raises awareness that helps attract workforce, cultural diversity, wealth and our next generation of residents.
As it is now, our three-season tourism economy is vulnerable to peaks and valleys, which is why tourism must broaden its role from attracting seasonal tourists to courting year-round visitors. We are unable to tap into more lucrative travel markets for lack of a conference and meeting facility, a large outdoor events and festival grounds, competitive sport complexes, and cultural and theater facilities. Neither local government nor any private party is going to develop these facilities alone, and they’re not going to build themselves.
The future calls for public and private leadership to work less independently and more like a “prosperity planning partnership.” All might benefit from a comprehensive road map that goes well beyond municipal land and utility development and includes the arts, visitor attractions, cultural amenities and creative funding concepts.
Much has been achieved by individuals and individual entities. But still, we seem to be lacking a greater community vision of what we want to become and how we’re going to get there. Tourism applauds current cooperative efforts to address future growth and demands, but there’s no harm in believing we’re better together.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Bob Kunkel is executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office.