State tourism chief expected to create ‘single voice’

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Al White has been a state lawmaker for years but the spotlight is about to get even brighter for the Republican from Hayden.

As I reported online earlier this week, the tourism and hospitality industry is excited about the news that Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper has appointed White as director of the Colorado Tourism Office.

Until now, the tourism office has not had its own director; the program was one of six that Don Marostica oversaw as director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

White has been known as a champion of the tourism industry for more than a decade. As the former owner of several ski shops and bike shops in the mountains, he knows the industry from the ground level, insiders say.

Local executives in the industry say this appointment bodes well for tourism in the state, and that, finally, the tourism program has been recognized as an important component of economic vitality for Colorado.

“As a former legislator, he (White) can protect the interests of funding the program,” said Terry Sullivan, CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“This reconfirms that Hickenlooper, as a former restaurateur, sees tourism as a key component to a healthy and vibrant economic program,” Sullivan added.

People in the industry hope White will accomplish several things during his tenure.

White should, they say, work to maintain and eventually increase funding for tourism promotion; be a “single voice” for the industry, to give it the cohesion that’s been lacking for the past 10 to 15 years; and give the industry its own identity.

“Sen. White has been a tourism champion; he’s gone out on the wire many times. He gets it,” said Michele Carvell, executive director of Pikes Peak Country Attractions Association.

“He (White) has a good reputation. And with the governor-elect appointing him as director — that’s a pretty good move,” said Steve Ducoff, executive director of the Pikes Peak Lodging Association.

In Colorado, the tourism industry generates about $6 billion in annual revenue, employing about 120,000 people. In the Pikes Peak region alone, tourism generates about $1 billion in revenue annually.

Although economic development and tourism go hand-in-hand, industry insiders say, that’s not always been recognized at a state level.

“We’ve worked hard for many years to get this (appointment), and now we have it,” Sullivan said. “It’s a Merry Christmas to the state tourism industry.”

Loving Las Vegas

Last week, Allegiant Air wrapped up a deal that included free companion airfare for anyone buying an air and hotel package to Las Vegas. The airline and travel company is based in Las Vegas.

Colorado Springs was one of 25 cities throughout the nation that was included in the offer. Elsewhere in Colorado, Pueblo, Fort Collins/Loveland and Grand Junction were also on the list.

So how well did it do?

Allegiant flights from the Springs to Vegas increased 15 percent year-over-year, largely because of this offer, the airline said.

Moreover, the deal was one of the airline’s most popular sales, said Sabrina LoPiccolo, spokeswoman for the airline.

Flights have to be taken between Jan. 4 and Feb. 28. The deal included a minimum four-night, two-person air-and-hotel package.

The latest numbers

Colorado Springs hotel occupancy rates rose to 48.6 percent last month, an increase of 4 percent over the same time last year, according to the Rocky Mountain Lodging Report.

That’s the good news. The bad?

The average daily rate dropped more than $2 to $78.26.

Occupancy rates statewide increased 5.6 percent to 49.7 percent. And the average daily room rate increased $5.30 to $108.85, also up from November 2009.

Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, spending on travel and tourism nationally increased 8 percent in the third quarter.

That’s a sharp rise over the second quarter gain of 3.4 percent.

By way of comparison, GDP increased 2.5 percent in the third quarter and 1.7 percent in the second quarter.

Spending on passenger air transportation increased 29.8 percent last quarter, compared to 4.8 percent in the second quarter. Airlines lowered their fares, causing an increase in demand during the latest quarter.

And spending on traveler accommodations accelerated, increasing 9.5 percent in the third quarter, after increasing 6 percent in the second quarter.

Rebecca Tonn can be reached at rebecca.tonn@csbj.com or 719-329-5229. Friend her on Facebook.

One Response to State tourism chief expected to create ‘single voice’

  1. Al White was a great pick for the new Colorado Tourism Office director. He understands, both from his personal experience in the tourism industry and his work with the state legislature, how tourism is economic development and how accountability will translate back to an important return on investment for taxpayers.

    Sallie Clark
    January 20, 2011 at 2:15 pm