A citys downtown area is very much the heart of a community.
So said Katherine Correll, executive director of Downtown Colorado Inc. That concept is what brought more than 150 government and downtown business representatives from around the state to Durango last week.
The 12th annual Statewide Downtown Revitalization Conference had the events best attendance, according to organizers.
Durango is an excellent learning environment for our members, Correll said, It just has so many things going for it and such a vibrant downtown area.
Among the training opportunities offered during the three-day conference were walking culinary tours, mobile brewery tours and informational sessions on topics including tourism and producing big events in small towns to building stronger local economies and dealing with vacant properties after an economic downturn.
Sarah McLean, group sales manager for the Durango Area Tourism Office, told attendees that despite some annoyances, tourists can create opportunity for locals. Its worth trying to get a piece of their $758 billion national economic impact, she said.
But you cant just lay back and wait for people to visit, McLean said.
Dynamic marketing strategies, bold new initiatives and creative niche tourism targets are key to bringing in visitors and their pocketbooks, she said.
Think about what makes your community unique, McLean said, and look beyond skiing and snowboarding.
Some commonly missed, yet lucrative niche tourism markets that McLean said are worth considering included: the gay and lesbian community, the volunteer market, the foodie tourists who eat their way through their vacation destination areas and the down-home agritourism connoisseurs who enjoy visiting local ranches, navigating corn mazes and spending their family vacations on horseback or alongside barnyard animals.
Agritourism is a relatively new market in the tourism world, McLean said, but some local businesses and ranchers already saw results this summer after the Durango Area Tourism Office developed and distributed a brochure about the topic. The brochure included local event schedules and a detailed map with a corresponding list of food- and agriculture-related businesses, ranches and related tourist destinations.
What do you have in your community that youre not advertising? McLean asked.
McLean said being prepared with lists of tourist destinations that need both visitors and volunteers, such as parks, zoos and museums, also can be an effective tourist draw. Telluride recently decided to go after habitual volunteers or voluntourism in its marketing efforts, and it is seeing results, she said.
Vacationing is kind of a selfish act, McLean said, For some people, volunteering while on vacation just makes them feel better about where theyre spending their money.
The event, which is funded through a combination of business and government sponsorships and ticket sales, is held in a different city each year. Interested cities bid for the opportunity to host the conference, and final locations are selected based on the attributes of their downtown areas, said Heather Garbo, marketing and events manager for Downtown Colorado Inc.
We are careful to select communities that have worked to create a thriving downtown, she said.
This year was the second time the conference was held in Durango.
Durango is a wonderful example of a healthy, thriving downtown, and we are happy to be able to showcase the wonderful work that the city and its many partner organizations, including the Durango Business Improvement District and the tourism office, have done, Garbo said.
Attendees said they were enjoying Durango.
So far the event looks like its well-organized and will be really fun, Melanie Kine, who works for the Downtown Development Authority in Montrose and as a metalsmith for Ouray Silversmiths, said early in the three-day conference.
The event also was expected to generate additional revenue for the Durangos businesses and area attractions because many conference attendees said they planned to extend their stay with additional family members who came with them.
This area is very appealing (as a conference venue), Correll said. Everyone wants to come here because its so beautiful this time of year.