Cortez Journal

Woe-free season boosts tourism

Sept. 14, 1999

By David Grant Long and Matt Glackman

Maybe it'll be remembered as the summer that, for once, disaster didn't visit Montezuma County, and many others did.

"Actually, it's been a real good season (for tourism)," said P.G. West, owner of the Turquoise Motel and a member of the Umbrella Tourism Committee, which promotes the area through $300,000 in funding from the 2-percent lodging tax and sales tax from the city of Cortez.

"It seems that since we haven't had a disaster like we have had for the past several years -- whether it was road construction, or Mesa Verde (National Park) burning, or the fugitives, for the last four years every summer there's been a problem," he added.

"This year we haven't had any (disasters), and things have gone very well. Everybody I've talked to through the UTC has experienced an increase."

West, whose own business had experienced an approximately 5-percent growth in revenue, said years of promoting the county also contributed to the upturn.

"A lot of the advertising that we've been consistent in is coming into play and creating interest in our area," he said. "I think our efforts are working (and) it's not only lodgers' tax that's up, but it's also sales tax revenue for the city."

Lodgers-tax collections are running 12 percent through August, according to figures recently released by the city, and 21 percent for July over that month in 1998.

Others with their fingers on the local economic pulse agreed that the local tourism industry had done well compared to the past few years.

Lynn Dyer, who promotes the entire county as "Mesa Verde Country" under a contract with the UTC, said yesterday that several indicators showed that visitation was up significantly.

Through August, the number of tourists stopping at the Welcome Center in Cortez increased 9 percent over that period last year, she said, while visitation to Mesa Verde, the county's premier attraction, grew by 6 percent, and visits to the Heritage Center, a Bureau of Land Management museum near Dolores, is up 3 percent for the year so far.

Visitors to Hovenweep National Monument, which straddles the Colorado/Utah border, have already surpassed the total for any previous year, Dyer said, with nearly 34,000 ruins buffs passing through the entrance. That figure represented a dramatic 103 percent increase over last year, when the monument was closed for several weeks in early summer while a massive search for three cop-killers was being conducted in the area.

Attendance at the nightly Indian dances at the Cortez center jumped 37 percent during their Memorial Day to Labor Day run, she said, and is a "real good summer indicator.

Dyer said increases in the tourist trade were either less pronounced or didn't occur at all in other parts of the Four Corners region, with Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah actually experiencing a 2-percent drop.

The number of visitors to Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Monument, also in southeast Utah, went up 1.5 percent and 3 percent respectively.

"Some of the places are either pretty consistent with last year, or are a little up or down in other parts of the Four Corners area and even in the states."
"Obviously the season's not over," she said, since the county also gets a significant number of visitors during September and October, what's known as the "shoulder season."

"We still see a lot of people coming through, especially people without children, retired couples, this kind of thing," she explained.

Glenn Leighton, owner of Notah Dineh Trading Co, agreed. "We are planning on having a really good fall," he said. "The weather in this area is beautiful that time of year and word has been getting out."

Leighton, who has also seen an increase in business, isn't sure whether the boost should be attributed to an influx of tourists or just increased spendability because of the booming economy. Either way, he hopes to see this good cycle continue, he said.

Kristine Acott, director of the Cortez Chamber of Commerce, said there has also been a noticable increase in the number of foriegn visitors stopping at the Welcome Center, mainly from Germany, France, Belgium and England.

"I know Mesa Verde has a very large Japanese contingency they see up there," she said, "but we don't see as many of those folks in the Welcome Center, and I have no idea why."

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Copyright 1999 the Cortez Journal.