Strong summer for tourism

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The summer tourism season is shaping up to be better than recent years, according to local officials and business owners.

Although July sales tax numbers have yet to be figured, both the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village report June numbers were up over 2011. According to Mountain Village Finance Director Kevin Swain, sales tax revenue for June was up about 2.8 percent over June 2011 and 2010. Sales tax revenue for June 2012 was about $148,000, compared with roughly $144,000 during the previous two years, he said.

“I think the state of the tourism economy in Mountain Village has improved over last year,” Swain said. “We are meeting expectations and meeting our budget, so all is well. The summer is off to a good start.”

Swain said the town is starting to bridge the gap from the winter season, when sales tax revenues were down about 8 percent.

“We are making up for it a little bit,” he said.

The Town of Telluride is up 3.3 percent over last year, with $462,412 in sales tax for the month of June, the most for the month since the nation-wide recession began in 2008. The town collected $447,651 in June 2011 and $426,144 in June 2010.

According to the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP), a service the Telluride Tourism Board uses to track performance, occupancy was up one point in June and 6.9 points in July, compared with 2011. MTRiP polls 16 major lodging properties to come up with their numbers, said TTB President Michael Martelon.

Martelon said based on reservations, the rest of the summer and fall look strong as well. August 2012 is pacing almost 20 percent stronger than last August, and September is one point ahead. Although it’s still early, October is also up by one point, he said.

“Summer is looking strong, very strong,” Martelon said in an email.

Local business owners are also reporting that summer sales are up over last year.

Meghann McCormick , owner of local coffee shop The Steaming Bean, said she has seen a definite increase in business over last year.

“It’s been a good summer so far,” she said. “Hopefully, it just stays the way it’s been going. I think summer’s got a long way to go before it slows down.”

McCormick said she has been seeing a lot of repeat visitors to Telluride and said people seem to be staying longer as well.

“People extend their vacations,” she said. “They don’t just come for the festivals and leave.”

Martelon attributes the uptick in business not to an improving economy, but to the TTB’s new approach to marketing Telluride and Mountain Village using data analytics. The technique breaks up the demographics of Telluride visitors into 71 different categories, allowing the TTB to target exactly which ones they want — mostly through digital media. Except for an ad the TTB ran in Terminal B of Denver International Airport, nearly its entire marketing program this year has been digital, Martelon said.

“We know who comes here, and we know what their media habits are so we know how to target them,” he said. “Other than the Colorado Tourism Office Visitors Guide, the only thing we’ve done offline is the airport in June.”

Will Thompson, owner of the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art and president of the Telluride Merchants Association, said although it’s not a return to the boom days of the last decade — business for him was up in July.

“It ain’t 2007, but we are definitely up,” he said. “Overall, for this year, it’s improving.”

But Thompson isn’t totally sold on marketing using data analytics — yet.

“The jury’s out,” he said. “It sounds very targeted and pretty focused and very scientific. We will see what happens. That’s my take on it. I think it’s a good effort, and we really hope that it works.”

But others say they are seeing evidence that the marketing approach is already working. Jerry Greene, owner of Baked in Telluride, said his July business was up significantly over last year. Part of that he attributes to finally having his bakery up and running for a year after a fire shut it down for most of 2010 and half of 2011. But Greene said what he hears from visitors is indicative of successful marketing. Tourists tell him they included a visit to Telluride on their way to and from other well-known Colorado destinations like Mesa Verde and Aspen.

“Those kind of things suggest we are reaching the tourists and they are inclined to find Telluride a necessary stop on their tour,” Greene said.