Mesa Verde Country’s executive director, Kelly Kirkpatrick, recently was named to a state committee dedicated to promoting rural tourism.
The committee, the Destination Development Committee, supports tourism in less-visited areas of the state. The Colorado Tourism Office’s Destination Development Program selected Kirkpatrick in July.
“The work of this committee is particularly close to my heart since I understand firsthand the challenges of promoting a tourism destination in rural Colorado,” Kirkpatrick said in a statement. “I’m excited about the opportunity to help identify some unique funding sources for our tourism partners in the community.”
Mesa Verde Country helps connect visitors to attractions throughout Montezuma County. Earlier this year, the group took over operations of the Colorado Welcome Center in Cortez.
Kirkpatrick has served as executive director of Mesa Verde Country since January 2015. She previously worked with the state tourism office, and after launching the Mesa Verde Farm and Ranch Tours a few years ago, she spoke about the process of forming and promoting the tours at the CTO-sponsored 2018 Governor’s Tourism Conference.
She also is part of a CTO executive training program.
She said she is excited to serve on the committee, as it will allow her to see what opportunities are available for rural Colorado communities, including her own, in terms of finding funding, training, and mentorship partnerships.
“Part of the purpose of (Destination Development) is to increase traveler spending through creation and branding of new traveler experiences in less visited areas of Colorado,” Kirkpatrick stated. “We work to empower rural destination partners to develop and promote tourism assets.”
Currently, she said, visitors to “Mesa Verde Country” spend about $315 per person on vacation expenses such as food, gas, shopping and lodging. Average spending from domestic visitors to the state is $538 per person.
Kirkpatrick said that she hopes her efforts to build a “stronger tourism base in Southwest Colorado” have helped put Dolores, Mancos and Cortez on the map for their unique experiences.
“We learn so we can share and help others to grow,” she said. “Let’s share what has worked in our area with other rural communities. When we work together we all benefit.”
Colorado officials say the state took in more tourism money without increasing the overall number of visitors in what is perceived as a success for sustainable tourism.
The Colorado Sun reports the Colorado Tourism Office research released Thursday shows travelers spent $22.3 billion in 2018, a nearly 7% increase over 2017.
Officials say overall visitation numbers remained flat as revenues rose, indicating a two-year plan to bring tourists to less-visited areas of the state is working.
A focused campaign in 2017 began promoting travel while protecting the state’s natural resources and landscapes.
A survey of 2,500 travelers showed an increasing number chose Colorado because of its environmental protection and sustainability focus.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.[email protected]