Al White, director of the Colorado Tourism Office, speaks Friday during the Navigator Awards at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Al White, director of the Colorado Tourism Office, speaks Friday during the Navigator Awards at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort.

State Tourism Director Al White visits with Steamboat audience

White tells audience he aims to rebuild economic return from industry

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— Colorado Tourism Office Director Al White promised a Steamboat audience Friday that he would do his best to rebuild the state’s economic return from the tourism industry by refocusing a limited budget on the A-list markets that are the most dependable in bringing relatively free-spending vacationers to Colorado.

“I was very disappointed when I got the numbers in February and found that our return on investment had fallen by about 40 percent,” White told business leaders at the annual Navigator Awards luncheon. “We used to see a return of about $13, and now it’s more like $7.60. More people are visiting Colorado (up 6 percent to 55 million) but they are spending less per capita.”

Veteran Denver ad agency Karsh/Hagan has taken over the state’s tourism account and will shift the emphasis from print advertising to television in key markets including Texas, Kansas, Chicago and St. Louis. And White, who is a former state senator from this district, said he had hired marketing expert John Ricks, who earned a reputation for the highly successful “Forever West” campaign that rebranded Wyoming as a place where the Old West still is alive.

White said he was counting on Ricks to roll out a new campaign in the spring that will form the same kind of emotional connections with potential visitors as he felt on his first trip to Colorado from Illinois as a high school boy looking for adventure.

White said the tax revenue tourism directs to state

coffers helps to shield Colorado residents from paying higher taxes, which should signal his former colleagues in the legislature that spending to promote tourism is a good investment.

Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush asked White what the prospects were for appealing to the state legislature next year to increase tourism.

“Governor (John) Hickenlooper understands better than any former governor,” White said. “But the budget is still the budget and cuts have to be made. If we still have the $15 million we have, I’ll feel pretty good for right now. If you want to talk to (the people who control tourism funding), talk to the members of the Joint Budget Committee.”

“My good friends on the left (side of the legislative aisle) ask me, ‘Why are we spending tax dollars on tourism when we can’t even fund education?’ and I tell them, ‘For every dollar you invest, I’ll give you back $3, $4 , $5 or $6 that will help you fund education.’ And my good friends on the right ask me, ‘Why are we funding private businesses?’ and tell me to run the tourism office more like a business. And I ask them, ‘What could be more businesslike than investing in tourism?’”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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