Giving tourism industry the respect it deserves

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We’re all just getting to know Doug Price, the new chief of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, but I’ve discovered something about him that should resonate with many:

Several years ago, while still living and working in Washington, D.C., Price was in the Springs on a business trip and, as he tells it, was walking across the footbridge at The Broadmoor in the moonlight when he stopped to take in the view.

It was one of those little moments in life when we stop to think about where we are, what we’re doing and what and where we might really prefer to be doing it.

So Price at that moment, gazing across the waters below that little bridge and at the star-filled heavens above, began to think about the possibilities of living at the foot of the Rockies, in a place that people once regularly referred to as Little London.

It’s not hard to imagine that many of us might have had a similar experience at some point.

I certainly did. In 2009, while living in the Midwest, I took my family on a cross-country trip. We spent several days in the Springs. Our tour included a stop at the Cave of the Winds. The stalagmites were cool but that view from the deck was fantastic.

In any case, Price is now about to enter his second month in the new job and he’s doing what he can to learn as much as he can about life in the Springs.

One thing he’s already learned is that support for tourism is not a sure thing.

Some of our lawmakers don’t believe in spending tax dollars to help promote the tourism trade.

To them, it’s nothing more than corporate welfare.

To me, that’s nothing more than myopic ideology.

But because that sort of thinking is part of life here, the tourism industry has to constantly lobby for legislative support. As part of that effort, it hosts a reception for lawmakers in Denver near the start of every legislative session.

The idea is to educate legislators – especially the newly elected ones – about the positive economic impact that tourism has on Colorado, which, according to the CVB’s figures, is the fifth-most visited state in the nation.

Here are a few more statistics to consider:

Tax revenue from tourism accounts for 25 percent of the city’s annual budget, saving each family of four $320 in taxes.

Nearly 6 million visitors travel to the Pikes Peak region each year and spend close to $1.2 billion.

Tourism is one of the largest employers in Colorado Springs, providing more than 13,000 jobs to residents.

Recognizing the importance of tourism, the joint budget committee this year has earmarked $15 million for the industry to use in its promotion.

That allocation had been $10 million under former Gov. Bill Ritter. It was nearly double that amount – $19 million – under Gov. Bill Owens. But those were better times for the state. Today, we face a $1 billion budget shortfall, so there’s a distinct possibility that lawmakers will decide to cut tourism spending back to $10 million as they try to balance the budget.

This year’s tourism industry legislative reception was held at the Brown Palace in Denver. About 45 lawmakers turned out. It was, according to participants, one of the best-attended receptions in years. An informal affair, there were few remarks delivered from the podium but plenty of good food and drink.

In reporting on the mood at the reception, Michele Carvell, the head of the Pikes Peak Country Attractions Association, had this to say: “Everyone (in the tourism industry) is feeling good about 2011.”

And why not? Lawmakers love being plied with booze and grub, and the economy is recovering.

Our state budget, however, is still very much hung over. We just have to hope that once the buzz wore off for those at the reception, they remembered this simple fact: Shortchanging tourism will mean shortchanging an industry that helps create some incredible moments.

Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. Reach him at allen.greenberg@csbj.com or 719-329-5206.