Steamboat Springs Newly appointed Colorado Tourism Office Director Al White told a Steamboat Springs audience Friday that he hopes to convince his former colleagues in the state Legislature that holding the line on tourism funding would pay dividends even in a time of budget crisis.
“If we continue the current level of tourism spending while other states back off, we can realize $2 billion to $3 billion a year in tourism spending and hundreds of millions in revenues in addition to many new jobs,” White said. “We can bring more people to Colorado to pay our taxes, so I don’t have to.”
He was speaking to about 40 people during the annual meeting of Mainstreet Steamboat Springs at Sweetwater Grill in downtown Steamboat.
White, a Hayden resident, was the state senator representing this region until he assumed his appointment from Colorado’s new governor, John Hickenlooper.
Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush, a member of the Mainstreet Board of Directors, introduced White as someone who has a better grasp on tourism statewide than perhaps anyone else, but also as someone who is intimately familiar with those issues in Northwest Colorado.
“He knows Steamboat Springs, he knows Routt County, and he knows our ski area,” Mitsch Bush said.
White just returned from accompanying Hickenlooper on an economic development tour that kicked off in the Vail Valley, continued to Fruita, headed south into the San Juans and returned to Denver via the Eastern Plains.
“At every stop on the tour, people cited tourism as an economic engine, even on the Eastern Plains,” White said. “Gov. Hickenlooper really gets tourism and understands the return on investment in it.”
After consulting with the governor and his former colleagues on the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, he said he’s optimistic that current state tourism funding levels can be maintained in 2011-12 despite the intense pressure to trim the budget.
He also predicted that a bill supporting tourism at the local level would be introduced in the Legislature. It is intended to allow for the creation of a sales tax that would be given to the tourism office to fund tourism directors in different regions of Colorado.
Finally, White criticized former Gov. Bill Ritter for failing to negotiate the placement of the word Colorado in the newly created Quiznos Pro Challenge bicycle racing tour, which is scheduled to come through Steamboat in August. White said he supports the bicycle race and expects it to garner international exposure. But he doesn’t want to miss the opportunity to promote his state in the name of the event.
“I’m going to fight to get Colorado’s name in there somewhere,” White said to applause. “I think for $300,000 (in promised funding), we should be able to get it.”
In other Mainstreet news:
■ Rob Perlman, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. vice president of sales and marketing, cited a recent report that ski area visits across the state were up 10 percent through Dec. 31.
“We mirror those trends and are seeing better regional trade,” he said.
He added that in spite of a 14 percent reduction in available airline seats into Steamboat, passenger numbers are not down as much as they typically would be.
“We are very close to flat passenger numbers, which is good news for everyone,” he said.
■ Mainstreet Board President Ruth Dombrowski told the gathering that locally created metal nameplates have been added to the new bus stop shelters on Lincoln Avenue.
“They really remind me of big Western belt buckles,” she said.
The shelters have names such as Rodeo and Nordic and will do double duty as information kiosks and cultural tour guides.
■ Mainstreet Manager Tracy Barnett introduced Mike Diemer, of Johnny B. Good’s Diner, and Joe Walker, of Sweetwater Grill, as new board members.