Glenwood Springs tourism representatives are celebrating the likely return of state tourism funding after the failure of an amendment to a bill in the state House that sought to do away with it.
The House passed a bill on Friday that would fund the state tourism office at $14.9 million. That’s down from last year’s $21 million, but it’s better than what the tourism industry feared would be no money at all.
“This legislation really would have imperiled tourism funding,” said Kate Collins, vice president of tourism marketing for the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, which rallied its members to urge legislators to oppose the amendment. “What I think is pretty astonishing about this is how fast it came up, how quickly people responded. It’s clear in this case, anyway, the political process worked the way it should.”
Facing a momentous budget crisis, legislators are planning across-the-board cuts. On Wednesday, lawmakers in the House slashed $475 million in jobs and services, mainly targeting education, prisons and Medicaid patients. The 31 bills approved by the House cut nearly every sector of state government as lawmakers worked to cut $1.5 billion over the next two years.
Gov. Bill Ritter said the state still has to cut another $340 million.
Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, had proposed an amendment that would have done away with the state tourism fund and transferred the money to the state general fund to pay for things like water projects. That proposal met with a backlash from the state tourism industry, which insisted the money was needed to bolster state promotion efforts.
“For every dollar we spend promoting, state visitors spend $193,” said Kim McNulty, director of the Colorado Tourism Office. “It does bring money into the state. It supports 140,000 jobs that are directly related to tourism. If you look at tax revenues, it generates around $760 million in local and state taxes.”
Tourism industry representatives, from chambers of commerce to bed-and-breakfast owners, blitzed legislators with appeals to oppose the amendment. Fischer dropped the measure after he and other legislators said they heard from constituents opposing it. Several legislators, including Rep. Kathleen Curry, of Gunnison, an unaffiliated legislator whose district includes Glenwood Springs, spoke to oppose it.
“For Glenwood Springs and most of the Western Slope, I would say that tourism is probably the only potential growth industry here in the near term,” said Collins, who wrote to Curry urging her to oppose the amendment. “It’s green and renewable and it needs to be protected and stewarded. It creates jobs.”
Tourism represents between 30 and 40 percent of Glenwood’s economic base, she said. The Glenwood Chamber, as well as some of its members, relies on ads in the state vacation guide, Collins said, takes advantage of other state tourism promotion programs and receives most of its requests for vacation planners from visitors to the state tourism Web site, Colorado.com.
The state went for years without a state tourism office before resuming funding several years ago. Collins said the marketing effort is needed to keep the state competitive with rival destinations.
“We absolutely have to keep the product top of mind for the consumer,” she said, “and we’re in a more competitive tourism and travel environment than ever before.”