State should not take complete credit for tourism boom |

State should not take complete credit for tourism boom

MARC CARLISLEspecial to the daily
Marc Carlisle

Would you spend a dollar to make $8.98? Would you spend a dollar to make $9.12? Would you spend a dollar to make $300? This is not the lottery, this is not a bet, not a gamble. This is a straight up, no risk, no cost to you, solid gold investment, and on your behalf, the state of Colorado is taking $15 million of the action.In the coming year, the state of Colorado will spend $15 million on tourism promotion. Tourism is big business in Colorado, more than $7 billion is spent a year, and the second largest economic sector in the state. Not so long ago, Coloradans taxed themselves to provide money to promote the state as a tourist destination, but in 1993, in a fit of frugality or stupidity, depending on who you ask, voters killed the tax. Since then, the state assembly has appropriated millions of dollars from general revenues for promotion, in direct contravention of the wishes of the voters who said quite clearly in 1993 that they didn’t want public money spent to promote tourism. Still, to tourism boosters, the sums appropriated were so small as to be a mere pittance, leaving Colorado out of the tourism game, a pathetic 35th in public spending on tourism advertising and promotion.

A key assumption made by tourism boosters is that the only factor driving tourists to the state is public spending. To make their case to the state legislature for a big leap in spending to $15 million, they prepared a set of simple talking points based on tourism spending in 2004, sales tax revenues in that year, and the increase in the number of destination visitors to Colorado. Straight-faced, tourism boosters divided the increase in tourism revenues by the pathetic pennies the state had spent on tourism promotion, and divided the increase in sales tax revenues by the amount the state had spent on tourism and came up with simple metrics. Every dollar spent (tourism boosters would prefer the word “invested”) on promotion generated $8.98 in tax revenue for the state. Simple math demonstrated that every dollar spent on promotion generated $9.12 in tax revenue for counties and municipalities. The math showed that every dollar spent on promotion generated $300 in private sector revenues, in the form of meals and accommodations and lift tickets and car rentals and trinkets. Of course, it’s not simple math. It’s arrogant math, shameless arithmetic to claim that the increase in tourism was a singular result of public spending on promotion. Private spending, by ski areas, for example, or the thousands of small businesses across the state in the tourism industry, had much to do with the increase in tourism in 2004, and outside events, such as an end to the drought, the start of the dollar’s collapse, and waning worries over 9/11, had a helping hand.

More importantly, simplistic metrics like these, which call to mind Mark Twain railing against “liars, damn liars, and statisticians,” don’t take into account the costs of tourism. In wrapping up the legislative session, leaders of both political parties took pride in the $15 million they’d appropriated for tourism promotion, though it’s hard to understand why. On the one hand, to legislators, tourism means jobs, but in a full employment economy, which Colorado enjoys, filling new tourism jobs means immigration by folks willing to fill the sorts of jobs created by tourism in the janitorial, service, and hospitality fields.

New jobs puts pressure on the housing markets in places like Summit and Eagle Counties. These types of jobs increase the costs to those counties of education, especially handling kids for a single winter for whom English is not a first language. The cost of health care, that portion borne by government and that paid by taxpayers, will go up since many won’t have health insurance. Conflicts over public use of public lands will become more prevalent, and let’s not get started on traffic congestion and highway construction. I’m in the tourism business. I welcome visitors every day with a smile because they pay the bills, or some of them. I pay the rest of the bills as a taxpayer and a homeowner, one who has to wonder whether the costs of that next visitor won’t finally outweigh the benefits.Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at

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