The Grand County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) were recently audience to an annual update from the Grand County Tourism Board, the first since long-time Director Dede Fay retired in late 2017. New Administrative and Sales Director Lindsey Morrow, Public Relations Specialist Gaylene Ore, and Marketing Specialist Karen Ruby were present to provide insight into the previous year’s growth and activities of the Tourism Board and tourism in Grand County.
The organization’s mission, Ruby reminded the Commission, states that “the Grand County Tourism Board, through cooperative county-wide efforts, will promote and market all tourism resources of Grand County.” The entity and its activities are funded through a 1.8 percent lodging tax, levied on all lodging properties outside of the Town of Winter Park. Their primary goal is to “drive tourism to Grand County and increase bookings through chambers, lodging properties, activity vendors and other tourism entities. — Ultimately, to get people here to spend dollars in your businesses.”
Director Morrow began this year’s presentation with a brief overview of grants awarded to date in 2018, totalling $279,740, up nearly $11,000 from last year at $268,861. Grants were awarded to many previous recipients, such as the various Chambers of Commerce, the Flying Heels Rodeo, Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater, Grand County Blues Society, Headwaters Trail Alliance, and the Shining Stars Foundation. One new notable grant in 2018 was $5,000 for the Town of Fraser, for this year’s first mountain bike series. “It’s exciting to see another town try to participate in our grants,” said Morrow. One more round of funds has yet to be granted for the last quarter of the year.
The Tourism Board maintains a community calendar of events, on which 625 events have been posted this year. The Tourism Board is also working closely with the Scenic Byways committee, a group that previously had state funding, but is now without a sustainable funding source, according to Morrow. “Grand County has our two largest scenic byways in the state,” she explained, “so we are really trying to do more promotion, get some scenic signs back up, especially Trough Road and the Inspiration Point sign.” She emphasized that the Tourism Board continues to work with the local Chambers to host educational meetings, such as ‘Breakfast over Business’ and ‘Lunch and Learns,’ in order to connect with and support businesses within the county.
Gaylene Ore indicated that, since the beginning of the year, the Tourism Board had hosted 27 media visits to Grand County, including journalists from Conde Naste Spain and Golf Travel Weekly. These visits are where “we really get the biggest bang for our bucks,” she explained. Ore represents the county and Tourism Board at national and international conferences, including Travel Media Association Canada. “We’ve learned Canadians really like to travel,” she said, “and will spend more time at their destinations.
She reported that she also continues to write and distribute press releases and that 2018 public relations efforts have resulted in promotional placements in the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Miami Herald. 57 articles have been published this year to-date, including 27 in “top 100 target publications.” The overall result, according to Ore, is an advertising equivalency of $1,153,000 and about 70,320,000 in viewership.
Ruby then discussed the current strategies of this year’s paid marketing. She explained that this is done to increase the lodging tax revenue to the County, increase website visits, build an email database for event promotion, and make referrals to the Chambers and other resources to increase stays and spending across the county. 35 percent of the marketing targets Colorado residents, while the remainder is focused on out-of-state markets, such as Dallas and Chicago. She indicated targeted demographics as well, including those interested in outdoor/ adventure escapes, family bonding, mountain vacations, and “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences.
Ruby pointed to the Tourism Board’s website as their “number one tool” to get people interested in and booking vacations to Grand County. The site, she explained, uses stories and information about Grand County, highlights various vendors, and a direct-booking option to facilitate lodging reservations. She stressed content development and search engine optimization as critical to increasing organic traffic to the website and, thus, increased visitation to the county. And while organic traffic has decreased, due to changes in web search engines, she reported a 37.4 percent increase in 2018, over 2017, in organic traffic to the Tourism Board’s website, with an average site visit duration of 2.5 minutes. “That’s huge!” she enthused.
She further provided website statistics for 2018, sourced from Destination Analysts, a third-party organization that completed a recent study on Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs). The study resolved that “for every new unique user to a DMO website, on average the destination benefited from $37 in new, incremental visitor spending in the destination.” Ruby provided a positive view for Grand County, which she said had seen a new user increase of 33.4 percent in the last year and a session increase of 35.4 percent.
The ultimate result of increased tourism to Grand County, she stated, showed a 16 percent increase in lodging tax revenue from 2016 to 2017, with a total of $928,760 last year. The advertising return-on-investment in 2017 was $249 for every $1 spent on media placement, according to a 2016 third-party study by Strategic Marketing and Research Insights. The same report indicated 59,000 trips resulted in $40 million in visitor spending in Grand County.
All numbers from the Tourism Board presentation seem to indicate a continued positive economic trend for Grand County in which, according to Ruby, 37 percent of the county’s 7,500 jobs– not including such things as real estate, transportation, and retail– are directly supported by tourism.