Tourism is a major industry, not only in Durango and La Plata County, but also in the state of Colorado.
Here is some almost mind-boggling information concerning the effect of tourism on our economy:
As of 2015, tourism accounted for 26 percent of the jobs in La Plata County, making it the county’s largest economic driver. That’s right, tourism supports more jobs than government, the tribe, medical services or oil and gas.
Revenues from lodgers tax in Durango right now are up 9 percent over last year, and a whopping 46 percent from 2011 to 2016. Revenues from sales tax in Durango are up 1.7 percent over last year, and a very healthy 27 percent from 2011 to 2016. County lodgers tax revenue has risen 27% over the last 4 years.
As best as can be determined, there are 27 Destination Marketing Organizations in the State of Colorado, most primarily deriving their funding from some form of lodgers or vacation tax. These DMOs have annual budgets totaling $66 million devoted exclusively to attracting visitors from out of town, state or country into their areas. The Colorado Tourism Office spends an additional $19 million. These numbers do not include marketing budgets for such notable places as Hilton Resorts, the Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad, Purgatory, Vail Resorts or other private companies. So it’s really difficult to tell how much is really spent to support this industry.
If we grossed up the spending by all the DMOs by an estimated 20 percent (which I think is liberal) to take into account private marketing dollars spent in the tourism industry, that would bring Colorado to $102 million spent on tourism marketing efforts.
What did we get for this investment? We do know that total travel spending in Colorado in 2016 reached $19.7 billion. And that this spending generated $1.2 billion in local and state tax revenues in 2016, a 7.3 percent increase over 2015.
Using simple math and dividing the $19.7 billion spent by visitors by the amounts invested by public and private funds of $102 million gives us an ROI of $193.00 spent in our state for every marketing dollar invested. More specifically, for the state, county and municipal governments, dividing $1.2 billion in tax revenue by the $85 million of tax-sourced funds brings a return of $14.12 for every dollar invested.
Now this may or may not impact you, but we’re talking about tax money being returned to government coffers at the rate of return of 1,400 percent. I feel fortunate when I can get a 7 percent return on my investments, and even that is rare at this juncture of our economy.
So why am I talking investment when we started talking tourism? Because it turns out investing in tourism is the very best investment any city, county or state government can make. Our new county manager, Joanne Spina was recently was quoted as saying “You have to live within your means.” She is absolutely correct.
But you (individually or as a community) must also invest in the future of that community for it to survive and thrive. Just balancing the budget is not enough. Money must be invested not only in infrastructure but also in industries and efforts that provide long-term growth for our region. Investing in tourism and tourism-related facilities is the best investment this community can make.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Frank Lockwood is executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office.