Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Colorado tourism hopes go up in smoke

A week ago, the state's tourism office announced that 2011 had been a record-breaking year. And 2012 will break all kinds of records, too -- but not the ones boosters like to shatter. Most disappointing ski season. Rafting industry drying up. And the rest of the summer tourism season going up in smoke, as pictures of the blazes across Colorado flicker around the world.

Most of the state is not affected by the fires, of course. Not physically, at least, although everyone knows someone who's suffered loses -- including the people at the Flying W Ranch, a fifty-year-old tourist attraction that burned to the ground, and many residents in the Mountain Shadows subdivision, which was built on former ranch land. And Colorado coffers will definitely take a hit.

After years of inflicting goofy, misguided pitches on the country, the Colorado Tourism Office finally came up with a decent campaign this year: "Come to Life." But it's tough to push that message, encouraging visitors to come to life in Colorado, while also showing concerns for those suffering such losses here at home. And no one wants to repeat Governor Bill Owen's "All of Colorado is burning" pronouncement of a decade ago.

Still, the missive that the Colorado Tourism Office sent out yesterday hit the right notes, and provided plenty of useful info. Here's the official release:

Colorado Tourism Office Announces Tourism-Related Fire Updates on

Denver, Colo. (June 27, 2012) -- As crews continue to work to contain fires that have begun at the beginning of an unusually hot and dry summer season in Colorado, The Colorado Tourism Office has announced an online travel resource for tourism-related fire updates at The webpage will provide regular updates on tourism-related attractions and destinations in close proximity to the fires.

"We do not know to what extent our summer tourism season will be impacted by the fires, but we want to create the best vacation experience possible for those planning trips to Colorado," said Al White, director of the Colorado Tourism Office. "The destinations that are being affected by the fires are doing an excellent job of managing the visitor experience by providing updates and alternative options when needed, and we are supporting them in these efforts with a state-wide resource for tourism-related fire updates."

The state of Colorado is using every available resource to contain the fires. The state is also working hard to battle the misconception that the fires are dramatically affecting the overall visitor experience. In fact, most of the state's destinations and attractions are open for business.

Colorado's two main airports, Denver International Airport and Colorado Springs Airport, have not experienced any flight cancellations or issues impacting visibility or airport operations. Very few lodging properties and campgrounds are being impacted.

Colorado is home to 23 million acres of public lands, including 10 national parks and monuments, 41 state parks and 334 state wildlife areas. The active fires represent less than 1 percent of the state's public lands.

In addition to, up-to-date information on location and status of the fires can also be obtained via the Colorado Division of Emergency Management at or on Twitter at @COEmergency. Updates on Colorado wildfires are also available at For ways to help those affected by the wildfires in Colorado, visit

Timing is everything: Just a week ago, that same office, working with VISIT DENVER, released this:
The Colorado Tourism Office and VISIT DENVER Report Record-Breaking Tourism Growth in 2011 According to Longwoods International Study

DENVER, CO -- June 20, 2012 -- Colorado and Denver set new records for visitation and spending in 2011, according to a profile of Colorado and Denver visitors by research firm Longwoods International commissioned by the Colorado Tourism Office and VISIT DENVER.

Colorado welcomed 57.9 million visitors in 2011, the most ever in the state's history. Although total visitation increased less than one percent, total domestic spending reached a record $10.76 billion, a healthy six percent increase over 2010. Day trips to the state also increased by 10 percent in 2011 and spending by that group rose by four percent.

Perhaps most importantly, Colorado saw its market share for the extremely valuable marketable leisure trip segment increase to a record 14.3 million visits, representing four percent growth over 2010. With marketable visits flat on a national level, Colorado moved into 16th place overall among the 50 states, from 17th place in 2010.

Marketable trips, defined as travel that is influenced by marketing efforts and are not comprised of visitors who are visiting friends or relatives or business travelers, are considered an important measurement, as they are an indication of the success and effectiveness of the state's marketing efforts. Spending on marketable leisure trips rose to $5.3 billion in 2011, a five percent increase over 2010.

Colorado continued to lead all states in the competitive overnight ski travel market, garnering 18.6 percent of all trips in 2011. Colorado also maintained its ninth-place ranking in outdoor recreation, with backpacking, hiking, camping and national park visitation noted as the top outdoor recreation activities.

"We were extremely excited about the 2011 report, particularly with the gains in the marketable leisure segment, which confirms that we're using our tourism funding effectively and with great success. It also underscores the importance of properly funding our state's tourism product, as there is a clear connection between increased marketing funds and increased visitor spending," said Al White, director of the Colorado Tourism Office.

Now all those hopes have gone up in smoke.

And that's not all: Al White left the Colorado Senate to head the tourism office for Governor John Hickenlooper; his wife, Jean White, who'd been appointed to fill his seat, lost her primary run to Representative Randy Baumgardner in a bitter fight.

In December, Hickenlooper touted plenty of Colorado locations, most of them currently unaffected by fire. See his picks in "Governor Hickenlooper's Colorado bucket list."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun