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Commissioners hear update on tourism

Tourism conference, construction, relations with businesses discussed


The Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) heard a tourism update from Visit Pagosa Springs Executive Director Jennifer Green at its April 9 work session, with the group discussing an upcoming tourism conference and relations between Visit Pagosa Springs and local businesses.

Green opened her update by highlighting that the community has not had a tourism conference since 2019 and that the event will span two days, with educational talks, events and participation from the Colorado Tourism Office, four vendors and a range of leaders from destination marketing and management organizations from across the state.

She invited the commissioners to participate in the event and stated that there are currently four local businesses registered for it in addition to 25 non-local businesses.

Green added that her staff would be distributing flyers about the event to businesses over the week and that the event is intended to help businesses learn about working with Visit Pagosa Springs and the Colorado Tourism Office as well as learning other low-cost methods for promoting their businesses and about current trends.

Green stated that the event will be on April 23 and 24 in response to a question from Commissioner Veronica Medina.

Visit Pagosa Springs staff are extremely busy planning events, Green indicated, including the tourism conference, a retreat for the Pagosa Springs Area Tourism Board and the Big Spring Clean.

She added that the organization is busy rolling out spring advertising before asking if the commissioners had questions for her.

Medina pointed out that there have been “some turbulent waters with some changes and new board members and things, and I just want to know, how is the business community responding to you? Is things back on track or is it a slow process, and where are you guys at?”

Commissioner Ronnie Maez commented that participation by businesses is a key part of this relationship and that local businesses need to participate.

Medina asked if there is a “lack of local participation.”

Green commented she has made some progress in some areas, including engagement with media writers that Visit Pagosa Springs is bringing to the area, but that she was disappointed by the number of registrations by local businesses for the tourism conference.

However, she added that, in 2019, the number of local businesses that registered was far lower than the number of businesses that attended the event.

She stated that this variability makes it difficult to plan how much food to provide and commented, “I’m sure I’ll get criticized one way or another on something with that.”

Green indicated that Visit Pagosa Springs continues to provide a weekly digital newsletter for local businesses and that she is currently focusing on working with the Main Street Board and crafting messaging for the upcoming Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) road construction project through downtown Pagosa Springs.

“I see the headwinds and I have a suspicion I know who’s going to get blamed when sales tax and lodging tax declines as a result of the construction, so I have that to look forward to,” Green said.

Maez commented that sales tax is already declining, even before the beginning of construction.

“We had not the best winter if you like snow,” Green said, adding that low snow years make the community more accessible, but that Colorado communities with higher snow totals have had better tourism numbers.

Commissioner Warren Brown noted that Green has been attending Main Street and CDOT meetings and asked if she has seen increased interest among business owners in becoming involved in preparing for the CDOT construction project.

“I’ve heard others on the Main Street board kind of described the state of emotions like going through grief,” Green replied. “There’s anger, there’s different levels that people are processing. I was at the … town/CDOT meeting last week. Think we’re still at the very angry phase from the businesses. … Unfortunately, construction is a part of life, and I see a lot of complaints about potholes and now I see a lot of complaints about fixing potholes. It’s a challenge.”

She added that the Main Street board is doing a “great job” in reaching out to businesses and engaging them at meetings.

Green stated that she reached out to the tourism coordinator in Glenwood Springs, which saw significant downtown disruptions due to road construction in recent years, and obtained the community’s communications strategy as well as advice from people involved in the project.

She stated that she expects the Main Street board to discuss this strategy at a future meeting and that she presented it to the board’s Cone Zone subcommittee.

“Just trying to put the pieces in place so that, when we have the answers we need, we can actually roll out this plan,” she said.

She added that some of the missing elements for the plan are the point of contact for the CDOT public information officer for the project and details of what the construction zone will look like.

Glenwood Springs had success with decorating fencing and barricades to assist wayfinding, Green stated, but what options will exist is unknown due to the lack of available construction details.

“The short answer is we need to be very creative,” she said.

Green noted that Glenwood Springs also had success with a construction flagger on the project who danced and entertained drivers.

“Those little things, you never know what’s going to work or what will alleviate tensions, but these are the thinking outside the box and trying to be creative to deal with something that has to get done,” she said.

Medina commented that the town/CDOT meeting appeared to be “very emotional,” particularly among business owners.

She then presented an idea from a constituent that the alley north of U.S. 160 downtown and between the highway and Lewis Street could be used to alleviate construction issues.

“It would have to be fixed and there would have to be some improvements to that, but there might be an option,” she said.

Green indicated that the Main Street board has previously discussed approaches to “activate the alleys,” as well as options for additional downtown parking spaces near the athletic field.

“These are all great ideas, but they’re going to get started now,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a budget allocated for any of these ideas, so that may have been a weakness in planning. So, the earliest we’re going to see some of these changes is after the busy summer season this year or maybe next year, but all good ideas, and we need to work towards those because I think we could utilize an enhanced alley down the road once we get past the construction.”

Maez commented that January sales tax revenues are up overall compared to last year, although collections for lodging and food services taxes are down.

Green stated this was “interesting” because lodging tax was up slightly in January and significantly up in February.

Maez noted that this discrepancy could be partially attributable to inflation and price increases.

Green commented that having occupancy data would help analyze what the numbers mean.

She added that the tourism conference will include a presentation from a consultant at the Colorado Tourism Conference on the economic impact of tourism, which would include information that Archuleta County has outpaced inflation and the growth of other tourism communities in visitor spending in the last 10 years.

“So yes, post-pandemic, things have declined, but if you look at the longer trend, we are showing some significant impact especially compared to where we started 10 years ago,” she said, adding that the growth of visitor spending in the county is outpacing nearby counties and the state as a whole.