Tourism Board pushes for funding: permanent source sought to promote state

The 1998 session of the Colorado Legislature likely will debate several proposals to provide a permanent source of state tourism promotion funds, even as the Colorado Tourism Board marshals its forces to prove the economic benefits of tourism.
The CTB, reconstituted earlier this year with a one-time, $2.1 million state appropriation, recently completed its winter marketing program and has started looking to the future. It has signed a $120,000 contract with Longwoods International Inc. of Toronto for a two-pronged study of Colorado tourism.

The Longwoods study, the first since 1992, is expected to become ammunition in the industry's efforts to convince the Colorado Legislature to provide some kind of permanent funding to promote tourism.

Since the state's voters killed a tourism tax at the polls in 1993, Colorado has been the only state without a publicly-funded promotion effort. After that tax -- and its $13 million in annual revenues -- was killed, the marketing effort was taken over by the Colorado Travel & Tourism Authority.

The authority, however, failed to win the industry's financial support it needed to thrive.

State Sen. Tilman Bishop, R-Grand Junction, who is the CTB's chairman, said he expects to sponsor tourism funding legislation in the coming session. A CTB committee is studying numerous alternatives for funding, including a proposal for a mandatory assessment of tourism-related businesses.

The authority was unsuccessful, Bishop said, because it was funded by voluntary dues. "Very few things succeed when there are fees or requests for funds and no way to get them to participate," Bishop said.

The 1997 Legislature stepped in with a one-time, $2.1 million tourism appropriation from business fees paid to the Secretary of State's office. A reconstituted CTB recently put together a winter marketing effort valued at more than $2 million because of contributions from other associations, agencies and businesses.

The CTB put $600,000 into the winter campaign and set aside another $1.2 million for a spring-summer-fall effort, but the question has lingered about what will happen to the CTB after its funding goes away.

John Frew, president of Colorado Ski Country USA and head of the CTB's research committee, said the Longwoods study will show the economic importance of the tourism industry. The economic impact study is expected to be completed late next spring.

In addition, Longwoods has contracted with the Oregon research firm Dean Runyan Associates to provide an analysis of the tourism industry itself.
Jane Siegel, vice president of Longwoods, said the studies will "show trend information and provide an overall profile of tourism in Colorado and what it contributes to the economy." Longwoods has done several similar studies for Colorado in the past, most recently in 1992.

The new study will be broader than the one five years ago, Siegel said, because it will include business travel.

Colorado's tourism industry will have to prove its value to the Legislature, as well as come up with a clear plan, according to the incoming chairman of the powerful Joint Budget Committee.

The 1998 JBC chairman, Rep. Tony Grampsas, R-Evergreen, said he is convinced the lawmakers will have to do something about providing assistance to tourism, but the Legislature can't "blatantly come out and overrule the voters," referring to the 1993 defeat of the tourism tax.

Colorado voters "are just not in the mood to increase taxes" for anything and need to have a convincing argument why state funds should go into tourism promotion, Grampsas said. "We've got to pay attention to what the voters are saying."

Grampsas said he welcomed hearing what Bishop will present in the way of a plan, adding that "it has to be a really well-versed, well laid-out plan that will show the people what the benefits will be."

Most of the proposals being studied by the CTB include a public-private partnership in which the state might provide a base funding amount and the industry would develop another layer. Among the proposals being studied are some kind of mandatory assessment of tourism-related business, much like a market order for the wool industry.

Also being studied is the so-called "Missouri Plan," through which the Missouri tourism division gets funding from increases in state sales tax revenue. A percentage of that revenue pays back an annual state appropriation that declines to zero over a 10-year period.

The Missouri Plan raised $11.6 million for tourism in its third year, plan officials said.

There may be another bill introduced to provide tourism funds through revenue generated by a video lottery system, Senator Bishop said, although Gov. Roy Romer vetoed a similar bill this year.

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