Summer forecast best in years
Local sources knock on wood that promising predictions will hold true

Sidewalks were pleasantly crowded Sunday afternoon as sightseers cruised through the shops lining Main Avenue. Local tourism officials are predicting a robust summer tourist season based on current reservations and travel packet requests./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

With a healthy snowpack, a more secure national economy and some distance between present day and 9/11, Durango is looking forward to one of the best summer tourist seasons in years, according to local industry officials. Being named one of the top three tourist destinations in Colorado doesn’t hurt, either.

“We all know that Durango is a great place to live and play, so it’s not surprising that so many people are interested in visiting,” said Kim Cobb, Durango’s tourism director. “Indicators look good – we are excited.”

Cobb said requests for travel planners made online or by calling the Durango Area Tourism Office are up 50 percent from last year.

“In April alone, we sent out 4,205 travel planners,” she said.

Bruce Moss, owner of Gateway Reservations, Durango’s primary booking agency, agreed that the forecast looks good.

“Our phones have been busy,” Moss said. “Knock on wood – if we don’t have fires or anything else that threatens the economy – it should be a good summer.”

Moss said Gateway is currently answering about 160 calls a day and is hiring more staff for the anticipated climb to 300 calls per day.

He said that though there is concern in the travel industry about rising gas prices, people are still driving to travel destinations within a 450- to 500-mile radius – what Durango continues to attract – so Durango shouldn’t be too impacted.

Moss said the beginning of the war in Iraq last summer and the slumping economy took a toll, and “the first thing that gets sacrificed is travel.” The previous year had looked good until the fires, he said.

“Then from June 9 to Aug. 9, all we did was process credit. It was just awful,” Moss said.

So, though he’s feeling positive about 2004’s potential, Moss said it is with prudence.

“It’s always cautious optimism, between West Nile and fires,” Moss said. “You knock on wood every day.”

With flags flying, the Durango and Silverton
Narrow Gauge Railroad gains speed as it leaves
town Sunday morning. The train reported a record
number of passengers in April and expects the
trend to continue through the summer./Photo by
Todd Newcomer.

Bob Morris, sales manager at the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, said passenger numbers are up 10 percent to 11 percent from last year.

“We had the biggest April in history,” Morris said, citing 5,890 passengers.

Like Moss, he said gas prices shouldn’t deter tourists from coming to Durango.

“People are so used to seeing $2 a gallon 85 if it’s spending $1,040 instead of $1,000 on their vacation, they’re still going to come,” he said.

Rick Erwin, owner of Mai Thai, a Main Avenue restaurant going into its ninth year of operation, said the influx of summer tourist dollars is needed.

“Some people need a great summer, but won’t admit it,” Erwin said. “I always like to feel positive about it, but whether it really happens, I don’t know.”

He said he thinks that with a foreign exchange rate that is favorable to Europeans, Americans will stay home and travel domestically, and vice versa.

Tourism has a bright future in Durango and statewide. Colorado was named the fifth most popular destination that travelers would like to visit this summer in a study by the Travel Industry Association of America. Icing the cake, Durango/Mesa Verde was named the top destination within Colorado in a recent AAA Colorado study, according to spokeswoman Mary Greer.

“What we’re finding out is travelers are liking to get out of the major metropolitan areas and into nature ... and national treasures like Mesa Verde,” Greer said. “In fact, I’m trying to get down there!”

The AAA Colorado findings were based on data on all the travel-related services AAA offers, such as reservations, trip routing and map inquiries, Greer said.

Rocky Mountain National Park was second, and Grand Junction was third for the state.

On the national scale, Colorado ranked fifth after Florida, California, Hawaii and New York, with 12 percent of summer travelers naming Colorado as the top state in which they’d like to vacation.

“I think there’ll be a higher percentage of European travelers than in the past because of a weaker dollar in Europe,” Erwin said.

This theory has already rung true at Mesa Verde National Park. Tessy Shirakawa, public information officer, said there havebeen a lot of visitors from places like France and Germany this spring, and that usually they visit in the fall. She said that visitor numbers look good, and the park will have the same number of programs and rangers as last year.

“The park is open and ready for visitors,” Shirakawa said. “We hope to have a real good summer this year.”

Cobb also said Erwin’s assertion has merit. At a recent travel show in California, industry officials said that because of the exchange rate, the United States is a travel “hot spot.”

Cobb, who took over as director in April, said external factors, as well as marketing efforts, have led to the rosy outlook. She said that this is the first year DATO has pursued a “complete winter marketing campaign.”

One new program was a partnership with Durango Mountain Resort to offer enticements to key markets, such as 4 Austin, Texas. They offered $100 back for gas to people who stayed and skied for three days at DMR. She said she would like to offer similar programs in June to places like Albuquerque.

Cobb said DATO is also working to promote Durango within Colorado, through discounts for state residents during May’s National Tourism Week and contests like “Friends and Family,” which gives Durangoans the chance to win a trip for four visitors in exchange for signing them up for travel planners.

“The Colorado Tourism Office reports 50 percent of those interested in visiting Colorado cite visiting friends and relatives as their preferred type of vacation,” Cobb said. “No one is a better salesperson for Durango than Durangoans themselves.”

Cobb said that the strong outlook this year is a credit to the community, and that locals should not be afraid to stay positive.

“It’s scary to be optimistic – you feel like you’re putting yourself out there – but we are. It’s going to be a great season.”







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