Where would Moffat County be without hunters? What would Steamboat Springs look like without its annual influx of out-of-state skiers?
Out-of-towners who come to Northwest Colorado and willingly spend their money in our motels, restaurants and retail shops are vital to the local economy, and yet there's no permanent source of funding to promote tourism in Colorado. Tourism is the second largest sector in the state economy, but Colorado has slipped in its rankings as a popular vacation destination, according to state Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, a vocal proponent of establishing a reliable source of funding for the tourist trade.
In 2002, 1.86 million tourists visited the state as a direct result of the Colorado Tourism Office's $2.5 million advertising campaign. Those tourists spent $522 million in Colorado -- a return on investment of $205 for every dollar spent on advertising. But without a permanent funding source, the tourism office is forced to ask for funding from the legislature each year -- an iffy proposition in these cash-strapped times. Last year, the office received $9 million. This year it's down to $2.5 million.
It seems like a no-brainer for lawmakers to establish a tourism fund through some kind of statewide tax. But critics say that funding tourism through taxation benefits a few tourist-dependent enterprises at the expense of all taxpayers. Business that depend on tourists, like resorts and theme parks, should do their own promotion since they reap most of the rewards, tax opponents argue.
That leaves small businesses in Moffat County largely dependent on the Moffat County Tourism Association to create a marketing strategy that will draw visitors to the region. The county's tourism board, which is funded by a countywide lodging tax approved by voters, will spend roughly $89,000 this year promoting Moffat County attractions, such as hunting, the Museum of Northwest Colorado, Grand Olde West Days, snowmobiling races, Echo Park, Dinosaur National Monument and Whittle the Wood.
The state might not think tourism funding is a wise use of tax dollars, but our tourism board understands how vital it is to Moffat County's economy and does a good job with limited resources.