Group renews focus on increasing tourism

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Residents in 10 communities are gathering today and Saturday to rejuvenate a waning effort to increase tourism in Northwest Colorado.

Participants in the two-day workshop will create a strategic plan to increase regional tourism. Having a plan will put the group in a strong position to be selected to test a statewide heritage tourism program, said Shelly Flannery, director of tourism and community development for the town of Meeker.

The four communities selected to test the state's program could receive as much as $55,000 toward their efforts.

Northwest Colorado's application would come from communities in Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties, which have been working for more than a year on plans to increase the number of visitors to Northwest Colorado.

A regional effort to identify and market the area's cultural attractions began in September 2004 when a tourism expert spoke about the components of Colorado's $3.4 billion-a-year cultural heritage tourism industry.

It gained momentum the following April when nearly 70 people attended a workshop in which representatives of 10 communities shared what their towns had to offer the growing number of tourists seeking a cultural experience.

Lost momentum

Efforts fizzled three months later.

"It lost its momentum because so much of the involvement was volunteer-based," Flannery said. "There was a need to implement some structure and have one person dedicated to advancing the cultural heritage tourism movement."

The idea of a regional focus on cultural heritage tourism began with the Yampa Valley Economic Development Council, made up of representatives from Routt and Moffat counties. That board decided in November to appoint Flannery as the regional director of cultural heritage tourism.

"We needed the ability to have one person who had the time and the desire and the funding to be able to coordinate with and for the representatives of 10 communities," board member Tom Gilchrist said.

$3.4 billion industry

The Meeker Town Council agreed to include heading up the cultural heritage tourism movement in Flannery's position.

"The town board was already committed to (the effort)," Flannery said. "It's great to have that support. CHT is a huge industry."

The Denver Post reported in November that heritage tourism brought $3.4 billion into Colorado in 2003.

"The cultural tourist stays longer and spends more than the average tourist," Flannery said. "It's a growing trend."

Flannery already has guided the town of Meeker to develop a strategic plan regarding heritage tourism and has taken the first steps in implementing it. Once a regional plan is complete, she plans to work with communities to revive interest and develop their plans.

"Meeker has a really sound plan, and we're marching ahead," Flannery said. "I would like for every community to have that."

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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