Tourism is trending upward in Montezuma County, according to revenues from a lodgers tax and Mesa Verde National Park.
The revenues from the county lodgers tax revenues increased by almost 10 percent in 2017. The 1.9 percent tax generated $171,138 in 2017, compared with $156,000 in 2016, members of the lodgers tax committee reported Monday to the Montezuma County Board of Commissioners.
The tax is applied to overnight visits in unincorporated Montezuma County, Dolores and Mancos, including five hotels, four bed-and-breakfasts, 14 campgrounds and RV parks, one hostel, ten vacation rentals by owner, 14 cabin rentals and three guest ranches.
The revenue is distributed each year to area Chambers of commerce and other tourism-related organizations who apply for the funding through a grant process.
The 2018 disbursement approved by the committee March 14 is as follows: $60,000 for Mesa Verde Country, $35,000 for Mancos Valley Chamber, $2,000 for the Galloping Goose Historical Society, $5,700 for the Ute Mountain Roundup, $20,000 for the Cortez Cultural Center, $32,000 for the Dolores Chamber of Commerce and $5,400 for the Cortez Area Chamber of Commerce.
The funding allocated to the Cortez chamber is for the Online Recreation Guide and the annual preseason customer service training.
The committee deposited the remaining funds into a contingency fund that now totals $20,605. The reserve can be used for emergency promotional needs, for example, to inform the vacationing public that local wildfires are not impacting major sites like Mesa Verde.
Brian Bartlett, treasurer for the Montezuma County Lodgers Tax Committee, said the lodging revenues are important and effective way to promoting tourism in the area consistently.
“The tax is paid for by visitors, and the revenues go to local tourism groups who promote the area and attract more visitors,” he said. “It’s a good system.”
Bartlett manages the Baymont Hotel just outside Cortez city limits, and said he saw more “staycation” type visitors in 2017 than before.
“A lot of my customers told me they could not afford the big vacation, but still wanted to get away, so they came here to visit Mesa Verde,” he said. “When we tell them about the Anasazi Center and Hovenweep, a lot of them stay another day.”
Other tourism related destinations also are reporting an upward trend in tourism lately.
Mesa Verde National Park recorded 613,788 visitors in 2017, up from 583,527 in 2016, said staffer Cristy Brown.
The park has seen a steady increase in visitation since dropping to 460,237 visitors in 2013.
David Kill, a program supervisor with the Anasazi Heritage Center, also reported increasing visitation to the museum in the past few years.
In fiscal year 2017, the museum of Ancestral Puebloan culture saw 29,097 visitors, up from 25,106 visitors in 2016. In 2014, the museum recorded 20,798 visitors.
“I think lower gas prices are helping bring in visitors, plus we have been promoting our museum to larger bus tours, and we are seeing that effort pay off,” Kill said.
Candace Barntner, an information specialist with Mesa Verde Country, attributed the growing popularity of the region to more marketing on social media and YouTube. Plus the area is becoming more known for outdoor adventure.
“People are finding we have more than just archaeology, and are visiting to bike and Phil’s World and Boggy Draw, hike the mountains or raft the rivers.”
The summer evening programs at the Cortez Cultural Center are seeing more attendance also. In 2016, there were 3,225 people who attended Native American dances and Old Western performances, reports executive director Becky Levy. In 2017, a total of 4,161 visitors viewed the Native American dance shows held at the outdoor plaza.
A strong boating season on the Dolores River in 2017 was also improved visitation. Record snowpack last winter triggered an extended whitewater release that lasted 85 days. The Bureau of Land Management estimated 24,000 boaters floated the river below McPhee Dam between March 29 and mid-June, racking up 56,000 visitor days.
This year’s dry winter means rafting will not happen on the lower Dolores River, and ski traffic was down. But tourism observers point out the mild winter extended the mountain bike season, especially attracting more visitation to lower elevation Phil’s World.