Results include first quarter lodging tax returns as ‘strongest ever’

The Grand County Colorado Tourism Board (GCCTB) recently presented its annual report to the Grand County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), offering positive news on tourist activity and economic impact for the first part of 2017.

As tourism grows as a primary economic driver in Colorado, the Tourism Board plays an important role in the promotion and marketing of Grand County to potential visitors. The stated goal is to “drive tourism to the county and increase bookings through the Chambers, lodging properties, activity vendors and other tourism entities.” It is primarily self-funded through a 1.8 percent lodging tax on local vacation properties, excluding those in the Town of Winter Park. Other funding sources come from the Colorado Tourism Office and website advertising. Monies collected or received are granted to local tourism organizations, used for public relations activities, or for direct advertising throughout Colorado and other targeted markets.

Statistics presented by Karen Ruby, Advertising Contractor for the Tourism Board, showed a 9 percent increase in lodging tax revenue for the first quarter of 2017 when compared with the same time period in 2016, indicating the “strongest quarter ever.” In fact, the data show added revenue for each comparable quarter since 2013, resulting in an overall increase year over year. In 2016, total revenues were $784,897, a 13.3 percent increase over 2015. The augmented annual revenues are allowing for greater community support from the organization.

Dede Fay, Administrative, Outreach, and Sales Contractor for the Tourism Board, reported that $233,861 had been granted to date in 2017, already outstripping the $217,925 granted in the twelve months of 2016. The majority of those funds are awarded to the five area chambers of commerce and are restricted to out-of-county marketing. The remaining have gone to support local nonprofit projects or events that have a tourist draw. This year, the recipients have included the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater, the Grand County Historical Association, the Headwaters Trail Alliance, The Flying Heels Rodeo, The Warriors Scramble Ice Fishing Tournament, and the Colorado High School Half Marathon.

Brief discussion was had when County Commissioner Kris Manguso questioned the Tourism Board’s decision not to donate to Grand Lake’s Constitution Week this year. In 2016, a $15,000 Three Lakes District sub-district grant was given to the growing event. Tourism Board Director Paul Lewis explained that “the same district members were not comfortable being associated with what had become a politically controversial event and wished to remain politically neutral.” He and Fay said that the event could be considered for renewed funding in the future.

The BOCC heard that 697 local events have been promoted, free of cost, through the organization’s online county-wide event calendar and on Facebook this year. Anything, from Kids and Family Day at the Middle Park Fair and Rodeo to the Winter Park Horseman’s Association, and the Spirit of the Lake Regatta could be found there.  “The Chambers are doing a great job with events, and events drive tourism,” said Fay. Current promotion efforts, she continued, were focusing on the upcoming “Go Grand” Bicycle-Heritage event to be held September 4 through 9 in Winter Park; the Scenic Byways promotion at the US Travel IPW show– the “largest generator of travel to the US”–  to be held in Denver next spring; and the Scenic Byway Corridor plan update for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Fay also reported that Grand County was represented at 11,000-person Adventure Travel Show in Denver last spring, that the Tourism Board will be welcoming staff from two of Colorado’s Welcome Centers this fall, and that they are subsidizing the publication of a county-wide guest guidebook. The guest guide should be out in November, in time for the winter season, and is intended to “continue to build cohesiveness throughout county visitation.” Manguso suggested that the guide could be distributed to all licensed short-term rental properties, and Fay confirmed the possibility.

Gaylene Ore, Tourism Board Public Relations contractor, reported on some public relations successes, which she said offer a return of six times the investment in Tourism Board dollars. During the first part of 2017 alone, coverage generated by PR efforts resulted in over 1 billion impressions, with a media value of nearly $700,000. A more concrete example was a golf press trip, hosted in June, which resulted in a 4-page story worth $12,000 in advertising.

This year, the Tourism Board has hosted 30 media from Canada, California, Florida, Texas and more. Represented publications include the Buzz, Austin Statesman, Travel & Leisure, Golf Channel, and USA Today. Participation in the hosted press trips is up 20 percent, Ore said, and has resulted in mentions by 9 News, the Denver Post, American Forces Network, and Architectural Digest.

Finally, Ruby offered a picture of where and how direct advertising is being focused. While 25 percent of advertising is done in Colorado, mostly along the Front Range, the vast majority is focused on target markets, including Dallas, Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha, and Kansas City. The desired demographic is male or female, with at least a college education and a household income over $70,000. They are outdoor enthusiasts and event attendees, whose searches reflect an interest in Rocky Mountain National Park and other mountain and adventure destinations.

The $200,000 advertising budget is spread out across the year, with greater spending in winter and the least in summer, the county’s busiest tourist season. “Content is key,” Ruby said and highlighted some recent articles on the Tourism Board website and indicated that site visitation was up 24 percent, with increased online visitors, page views, time spent on the site and interactive clicks.

Commissioner Rich Cimino expressing his surprise that summer is the busiest season across the county, reflected in the greatest lodging tax collected in the third quarter of each year. Manguso and Cimino encouraged the use of multimedia, including YouTube and other video creation. Ruby concurred, stating that Grand County has one of the most active county Facebook sites in the state. In all, Commissioners were enthusiastic about the report and ways in which the County could help to encourage new and creative draws for events and groups to Go Grand, when planning their activities.