New Colorado tourism office proposal gets early approval

The divided efforts of Colorado's tourism marketing apparatus may soon be brought together after the state's General Assembly tentatively approved plans for a new state tourism office.
House Bill 1224 would create a 13-member Colorado Tourism Office that would use a combination of state and private funds to help attract visitors to the state. The two state agencies that currently handle tourism promotion, the Colorado Tourism Board (CTB) and the Colorado Travel & Tourism Authority (CTTA), would be dissolved and their responsibilities assumed by a new branch of the governor's office.

"This would put Colorado back on the map as far as tourism goes," said Rep. Fran Coleman.

The members of the new organization would consist of two legislators and 11 people representing the tourism industry. The tourism industry representatives would require confirmation by the state Senate.

Whatever a new agency would be called, it is a good bet that the word "tourism" will not be in it. State lawmakers have said that the word should not be used because of the defeat of the state's tourism tax in the 1993 elections. State funding for tourism in Colorado has decreased sharply since voters repealed the 0.2 percent tourism tax. While the tax was being collected, the CTB operated under a $12 million budget. In 1997, the Legislature gave the agency $2.6 million. In May of last year, the Legislature gave the group only $1 million, barely enough to keep the organization functional. The rejection of the tax was seen by many as a crippling blow to the state's tourism marketing efforts.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jack Taylor, said a study conducted by the tourism research firm Longwoods International of Toronto found that the state lost at least $2.1 billion per year in potential revenue from 1992, when promotional funding was discontinued, through last year when it was reinstated.

"Colorado ranks 50th out of 50 states in funding tourism promotion," Taylor said. "Hawaii spends over $50 million, and here we are struggling just to get $5 million."

The study also concluded that an investment of $5 million for tourism promotion would boost tourism spending in the state by $250 million, which would generate a total of $13.75 million in additional state and local tax revenue.

The two state-funded Colorado tourism promotion agencies have recommended that they be disbanded and that a new agency be create in their place.

Officials from the CTB and the CTTA submitted a written report June 1, 1999 to the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee asking for the groups to be replaced. The idea to implode the two agencies is not new. In October 1998, Colorado Ski Country USA and Club 20, a business and political organization representing 22 counties, drafted a resolution asking the state to request that the Colorado Travel & Tourism Authority (CTTA) and the Colorado Tourism Board (CTB) go out of business.

The resolution was inspired by numerous disagreements by the CTTA and CTB over staffing, funding, and services. Another reason is the desire be many state tourism groups to get a permanent source of funding from the Legislature to promote the state.

Under the new plan to disband, Bain said that the funds remaining in two budgets will be transferred to the new agency.

The Tourism Board, which was created in 1997 by Gov. Roy Romer, saw its funding slashed from $2 million to $1 million in 1998. However, the state did put $5 million into the state budget for tourism beginning with the start of the 1999 fiscal year.

Legislators have made it clear that they want to see the two agencies resolve their differences and a clear plan as to how the money would be spent.

Competition for scarce funding resources has led to feuding among the two groups.

In 1997, half of the CTB's $2.6 million budget went to the CTTA, which contracted with the CTB to answer the group's toll-free information line and fulfill requests for information by sending out vacation guides. With limited resources and an unwieldy business procedure, the arrangement quickly soured. John Frew, chief executive officer of Colorado Ski Country USA and a CTB member, described the relationship as an "ugly marriage."

Another controversy erupted over the state's tourism web site, which was originally reserved for CTTA members only. The CTB earmarked $18,000 of its budget on the web site's development with the understanding that the site would include all tourism-related businesses and not just CTTA members.

Bain said that the organization was in the process of getting more of the state's tourism businesses included in the web site's listings.

The CTTA also recently survived a bizarre merry-go-round of leadership. The group reinstated its executive director eight days after he had been dismissed by the organization's board of directors. On March 12, 1999, the CTTA announced that it had fired Rick Wilder as executive director and replaced him with hotelier Colette Ratcliff. Just over a week later, Bain apologized to Wilder and said that his dismissal was invalid.

In the time since the tourism tax was abolished, studies have concluded that visits to Colorado have decreased. Longwoods International study also found that the state needs to spend about $15 million annually to be competitive. In 1998, the legislature earmarked $1 million for state promotion, a reduction from the previous year's $2.1 million.

Despite the turmoil that has surrounded Colorado's tourism promotion efforts in recent years, Taylor expressed optimism about the bill he has sponsored.

"I'm excited about this," he said. "I think it will work out nicely."

Taylor said that he hopes to complete confirmation hearings for members of the new agency in the current legislative session, which closes for spring recess May 3.

Interested in talking?