The 48th Annual Iron Horse Bicycle Classic was once again a very successful summer season opener, even as winter lingered a bit longer. Town was buzzing with visitors and locals alike, with the Iron Horse bringing riders from over 40 states.
While working at the Farmers Market, I met people from Fort Collins, Albuquerque, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, New Jersey and Texas in town for the weekend. We also greeted international visitors from Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Mexico and France. These countries represent some of Durango’s top international target markets.
So why are these international visitors so important to Visit Durango? First and foremost, as a Destination Marketing Organization, our goal is to attract a diverse set of visitors so our tourism economy continues to thrive and grow. Secondly, international visitors represent a “high value” traveler. Research conducted by the Colorado Tourism Office in 2017 shows international travelers spend an average of $1,763 per trip, while in comparison the average domestic leisure traveler spends $560. While domestic leisure travelers are Durango’s “bread and butter,” we can certainly add some “icing on the cake” by developing new markets, such as international, small meetings and sporting events.
Durango is one of the top international destinations in Colorado. International travelers come to Colorado for adventure and Old West culture, not to mention top attractions like national parks, scenic touring and fine dining. Durango truly is a perfect fit for the international market.
How does Visit Durango, along with local tourism partners, actively pursue this lucrative market? As you can well imagine, it is a costly, competitive market to reach. Luckily, the CTO considers international a top priority for the state as well. They invest over $2 million annually to develop this market, and Colorado destinations reap the benefits from working together with the CTO.
Research shows Colorado’s top international markets are Canada, the UK, France, German speaking countries, Australia, Japan, Mexico, and China. It takes an effective, multi-layered marketing and sales program to develop a successful destination. The same holds true at the state level. You can’t just build a website or place a few print or digital ads in a foreign country and hope that someone comes.
The Colorado Tourism Office has representatives in each of the aforementioned countries, working on a daily basis to market and sell Colorado. From the Colorado.com homepage, you will find microsites translated into 17 different languages. There are four separate English language versions alone! International reps for Colorado also translate all promotional and public relations materials, attend trade shows and make personal sales calls to tour companies.
Next week, Visit Durango representatives Marsha Wilson and board chair, Carrie Whitley with the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, along with the Colorado Tourism Office, will attend U.S. Travel’s IPW. IPW is the travel industry’s premier international marketplace and the largest generator of travel to the U.S. In just three days, Marsha and Carrie will conduct between 80 – 100 pre-scheduled business appointments with international and domestic buyers and media from more than 70 countries.
During the month of June alone, Visit Durango’s PR team will host three international media FAMs, including seven journalists representing top-tier international outlets from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France and Japan. Working alongside the CTO and local industry partners, Visit Durango will personally show these writers firsthand the top attractions and activities that make our destination so special. This month, the sales team is also hosting an Australian tour company specializing in educational tours for students, and the CTO Australian rep will pay us a visit as well.
In 2018, Visit Durango and partners hosted 10 international media FAMs, and nearly 30 international tour companies.
Attracting the international travel market is a “marathon, not a sprint.” Destinations must consistently promote, attend tradeshows, host tour operators and media to build relationships in order to be successful. The average return on investment from attending an international tradeshow is 2 to 5 years, and articles can sometimes take up to a year to complete. Visit Durango and partners attend two international tradeshows a year in the U.S. to meet face to face with 80 to 100 tour companies.
The international market is certainly the “icing on the cake” for destinations, as these visitors spend more, stay longer and travel year-round, in particular, during the shoulder seasons. International visitors also make a destination more diverse and vibrant. So next time you chance upon an international visitor in town, please introduce yourself and treat them to the “warm western hospitality” for which Durango is so well known.
Barbara Bowman is the interim executive director of Visit Durango. She is a third-generation Colorado native, with Silverton roots. She recently retired after 27½ years with Visit Grand Junction. Barb can be reached at 261-1052 or firstname.lastname@example.org.