Concern over tourism expressed

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— This just in from the front lines of tourism after all that has happened over the past seven weeks, people still don't get it. Security officials at Denver International Airport are confiscating an average of 90 pounds of knives and cutting instruments. That's not 90 pounds a month, or even a week. That's 90 pounds a day!

Assuming almost no one attempts to take a hatchet on board a 737 in their carry-on luggage, 90 pounds adds up to a lot of Swiss Army knives in just 24 hours.

The source for my information on prohibited cutlery is no less than Deputy Manager of Aviation at DIA, Amy Bourgeron.

"Is there anyone in the this room who doesn't know you can't take a knife onboard the plane?" Bourgeron asked last Thursday. She was speaking to more than 400 people attending the governor's conference on tourism at a Holiday Inn about 10 miles from her office.

Bourgeron's staff is struggling mightily to cut the time airline passengers must wait to clear security on their way through the airport. Those efforts aren't aided by travelers who insist on attempting to bring nail clippers and small pocketknives onto airplanes.

I also heard a television report over the weekend that their progress is being impeded by women wearing underwire brassieres. It seems the metallic component of the ladies' foundations is setting off the new, highly sensitive airport X-ray machines. I have no intention of dealing with that crisis in this space. I'll say only do your patriotic duty.

Now, back to the matter at hand.

"DIA was a wonderfully designed airport before Sept. 11," Bourgeron said.

"What we've done in the past six weeks is implement the European model for security. Our airport wasn't designed for that model of passenger flow. But we've got to make it work. How can I ask people to come to the airport four hours before their flight when their flight is at 6 a.m.?"

How indeed? When I heard Bourgeron make those comments, I felt a little pit in the bottom of my stomach. If DIA is ill-designed to handle the traffic flow generated by increased security checks, what then is Yampa Valley Regional airport near Hayden?

The terminal at YVRA isn't well designed to begin with.

Why does all this matter?

David Perry and Bob Lee spelled it out. Lee is the director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Perry is the president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA.

"As the tourism industry goes, so goes Colorado's economy," Lee proclaimed.

Perry put the numbers to Lee's statement. Colorado's 23 ski resorts accounted for 11.7 million skier visits last winter. Of that total, 65 percent came from out of state, and of that number, 55 percent arrived by air. Not all of them flew through DIA. But those that didn't will almost certainly fly through smaller ski town airports. Those airports may handle smaller crowds, but they also have smaller budgets and less equipment with which to scan carry-on luggage.

It's easy for the resort community in Steamboat Springs to be a little myopic when it comes to tourism Ski Town USA may have its special challenges, but even people in such rural vacation meccas as Sterling and Fort Garland were expressing concerns about their outlook for tourism last week.

And that doesn't even begin to take Denver into account. You begin to understand what is at stake when you hear Andre van Hall, general manager of the Adams Mark Hotel, explain how he lost nearly 14,000 room nights this fall. The disappearing hotel guests can be attributed to two national conventions. One of the conventions was canceled by Sun Microsystems, which has taken a beating in the decline of tech companies. The other canceled convention was one being planned by the Public Broadcasting System.

The hotel manager insists that it was the economy, not international tourism, that sacked his conventions. But you and I know why Americans are reluctant to travel.

I've given a great deal of thought to what America should do when it captures international terrorists, and I've concluded we need to devise special punishments. Think cruel and unusual. For example, we could sentence them to life, watching a continuous loop of Britney Spears' greatest music videos (is that an oxymoron?).

Unfortunately, we may also need to come up with some unusual sanctions to enforce against people who still insist on carrying Bowie knives onto commercial aircraft for their personal protection.

I've got it! Require them to whittle their own bathroom pass out of hickory wood before they are permitted to use the in-flight commodes.

That should solve all of our problems.

Tom Ross is a longtime Steamboat resident. His column is published every Monday in Steamboat Today.

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