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Summer tourism bonanza expected - Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

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Cyclists stop off for a killer photo in front of the 450-foot-tall Independence Monument. Places like Colorado National Monument are on an increasing number of tourists’ bucket lists this year, which should have a ripple effect economically across the valley.

By Duffy Hayes
Saturday, June 4, 2016

A collection of factors is conspiring to make this summer tourist season one of the best in recent memory, and local tourism officials are open and optimistic about the potential for a banner year.

At perhaps the region’s biggest draw, Colorado National Monument, signs during the early season show it could be a record year visitor-wise.

Ken Mabery, the monument’s superintendent, said while they don’t keep specific visitor numbers month to month, he and his staff have seen some really encouraging signs.

For example, Mabery said, the monument campground tucked among the amazing vistas off Rim Rock Drive was filled to the gills with campers 13 times in the month of May. That’s never happened in the recorded history of the monument, Mabery said.

He also said monument rangers reported a record number of times and days in May when the visitors center parking lot was full to capacity and overflowing.

To put more of a dollar figure on the early season tourist success, Mabery said the cooperating association that runs the bookstore at the visitors center reported a five-day stretch recently of sales that surpassed $2,000 a day. Two of those days, sales topped $3,000, a target the association had always strived to achieve.

“Now that we’re getting the out-of-school families and the others traveling through, we are noticing quite a few record-breaking times,” Mabery said. “We certainly do expect that this year, if not in the record books, we’ll at least be very, very close (in terms of visitor counts).”

What’s driving the big numbers? A few factors, Mabery said.

For one, the highly publicized 100th anniversary of the National Park Service has certainly brought new visitors to the monument.

“We are seeing people coming through saying they are visiting because of the centennial. (The national marketing of the centennial) is really taking off,” Mabery said.

Also, campaigns marketing Utah’s best five attractions have made parks like Canyonlands, Arches and Zion increasingly crowded, forcing some to drive on to Colorado to avoid the crowds. Colorado has increased its promotion of this part of the state as well, Mabery said.

“I think (the marketing campaigns) are being effective, and I think that people are discovering that … there is something here worth stopping for, and staying for,” he said.

That communitywide effect isn’t lost on officials who promote the area as a whole.

Deb Kovalik, executive director of the Grand Junction Visitors and Convention Bureau, said early lodging tax revenues are showing a boost in visitor traffic. She said a measure of April’s collections were up nearly 7 percent over the year prior.

“We’re starting off really good,” she said. “With certainty I can say, it’s going to be a really, really busy year for tourism in the state of Colorado.”

Kovalik said her counterparts in other areas of the state are reporting big jumps in attendance for events held so far this year, many with growth of around 6 percent, but some are showing double-digit jumps over last year.

As part of a bigger trend nationally, more people are especially traveling by car this summer — AAA estimated that 34 million people took road trips of 50 miles or more over the recent Memorial Day weekend.

Local efforts to market the region to those drivers online have really paid off, Kovalik said. She pointed to strong pre-sales of the September Colorado Mountain Winefest in Palisade as further evidence, as well as the recent success of the Epic Rides Off-Road races held in Grand Junction on the third weekend in May.

“I just see this year as being really strong. And we need that. This community needs all these people coming here, and spending their money,” Kovalik said.

“Tourism right now is kind of driving the (local) economy to a place where it’s at least staying even, with all the energy business that has left.”

Contact Michael Rasser

Michael E. Rasser
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