Tourism pleads its case to avoid budget cuts

Leaders ask lawmakers to direct their budget ax away from tourism funds.

Tourism supporters from around the state rallied at the Capitol on Monday to help persuade lawmakers to spare tourism funding from the budget ax.

As part of the annual "Colorado Tourism Day," the group heard from the state's top tourism players and legislators before meeting individually with lawmakers.

Among the speakers was Al White, the newly appointed director of the Colorado Tourism Office and former state senator.

"When we invest in tourism, we actually get a leveraged return," White said. "By providing money for tourism funding, we are creating dollars for ... social programs. We are running Colorado like a business when we invest a dollar and get $6 back."

He said the state's share of overnight visitors is growing. From a low point of 1.8 percent of all U.S. overnight visitors in 1997, Colorado is back up to 2.6 percent, White said.

The Colorado Tourism Office received $15 million in fiscal 2010, which is $5 million less than previous years but still well ahead of the sporadic funding from a decade ago.

Still, sparing the ax is a hard sell to lawmakers hacking away at a $1 billion budget deficit. The "day of reckoning is coming" for state budgetmakers, said Henry Sobanet, director of the Colorado Office of State Planning and Budgeting.

"We have some tough choices ahead," he said. "But if we stop funding (tourism), we know we are going to lose out."

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