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Burning money to fight fires – communities have to spend to get visitors to return

Day 2

We don't awake until after noon. After reviewing my schedule for the day and a map, I make a plan for where to look for parking. We get up and run out the door in record time, covered in sunscreen and wearing comfortable shoes, packing a small backpack with snacks, money, id, sunglasses, camera. Bikes are loaded in the car and we're off, Carl to work, and me to my first venue, La Zona Rosa to see the band fun. It's a day party- free, unofficial, and free food and drinks. I arrive on foot, as I've scored a $20 parking space 2 blocks away. The line stretches a block long, I can't hear the current band, but there's 5 on the listing. An hour in line and closer to the entrance, the two girls behind me start asking themselves if they should just leave. One calls off work. And then, free steak queso over chips gets passed out along the line, and everyone is happy again. Free shampoo samples, beer koozies and several fliers follow. I'm pretty intrigued by the band that's playing inside: poppy and synth-heavy Geographer, sounding similar to Passion Pit. Another half hour and the line moves quickly, Geographer finishes, and a whole group of people leave. At capacity, one-in/one-out means a bunch of people can finally go in now.

These are the true fans, my fellow music addicts. We're all here for the same reason. Numerous people look like someone else I know. Many look like they could be famous musicians or producers, and probably are. People watching becomes overwhelming in short time- dizzying array of colors and graphics. Bodies are canvased with badges, wristbands, camera straps. Everyone is beautiful and enthusiastic, despite the muggy heat and traffic. They end with the popular catchy tune "We Are Young." The 45 minute set is only marginally worth the double wait time, as I'm pretty worn out. If everything I want to see goes like this, there's no way I'll have enough energy to see 6 sets a day at different locations.

I walk back to the car and unload my bike for the downhill jaunt to the next venue on my schedule, a mile away. I'm excited to see inside all of these memorably-named venues. I lock up my bike across the street, arriving at the time Poli

There’s a lot of rebuilding that goes on after a wildfire. Rebuilding houses, neighborhoods and for places like Black Forrest, whole communities. Non-profits and the surrounding communities are ready to help those who are displaced during mandatory evacuations or after their home has been destroyed but rebuilding the tourism industry, a major source of revenue for many communities affected by the fires, is much more difficult to reconstruct.

Repairing the Royal Gorge Park could cost anywhere from $25-$40 million, and while there has been no confirmation about dates, the park’s website said they hope to have a brand new park by the summer of 2014.

Unfortunately, the tourism season and the wildfire season coincide, which is why many communities affected by fires must launch advertising campaigns immediately after full containment to gain back lost revenue from tourism.

Canon City has recently unveiled their plan to lure tourists back into the area after the Royal Gorge Fire burned a total of 3,218 acres and charred 48 of the 52 buildings on the Royal Gorge Park’s property.

A total of $37,000 will be spent on the campaign. $10,000 will be spent in print media and $27,000 will be spent in television and Internet marketing, reported the Canon City Daily Record.

The money used to market the region comes from donations from local businesses and non-profits. The El Pomar Foundation gave $20,000, Sun Flower, Canon National and High Country banks donated $5,000 each, and the Fremont Tourism Council $10,000. Canon City also donated $10,000.

The total amount of money, $55,000, which also covered video production and preliminary costs, will last through the month of August.

“The traffic is down, as I can see. But we’re getting people in the office consistently,” said Doug Shane, Executive Director of the Canon City Chamber of Commerce.

There has been an upsurge in calls and 600-1,000 visitor guides are being sent out each week, Shane said.

Repairing the Royal Gorge Park could cost anywhere from $25-$40 million, and while there has been no confirmation about dates, the park’s website said they hope to have a brand new park by the summer of 2014. 

Officials at the Royal Gorge Park said they have not yet discussed a marketing plan, as they are still in the demolition stage of reconstruction.

“People are at risk of losing their jobs, their benefits and their businesses if we can’t get visitation back where it should be. Nearly 350 families lost their homes to the fire, and we don’t want more people to lose their homes because they can’t make their rent or mortgage payments.”

— Doug Shane, Colorado Springs Visitor’s Bureau

Shane said it seems many people across the state, particularly in the north, aren’t even aware Canon City experienced a fire. The media coverage of the Black Forest Fire diverted a lot of the attention away from the Royal Gorge Fire, which Shane says is fortunate for Canon City though he would never wish that sort of devastation on anybody else.

After the Waldo Canyon Fire scorched 18,000 acres, destroyed 347 homes and the Flying W Ranch, the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau launched a campaign to let tourists know Colorado Springs and its many attractions were open for business. 

The “Welcome Back” promotional campaign was funded by $65,000 in organization and individual donations. The CVB also committed $135,000 from their reserve fund, according to the organization’s 2012 annual stakeholders report.

“After the fire was 100% contained and key attractions reopened, the funds were used to make additional advertising placements during late summer and throughout the fall,” the report stated.

The report points out that tourism employs 11,620 people in El Paso and Teller counties, which was another reason for such a strong campaign.

“We are mindful of the loss that the community has already endured,” said Doug Price, President and CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau in a July 2012 news release after the containment of the fire.

“People are at risk of losing their jobs, their benefits and their businesses if we can’t get visitation back where it should be. Nearly 350 families lost their homes to the fire, and we don’t want more people to lose their homes because they can’t make their rent or mortgage payments.”

Even with devastation from the fire, there was a 167 percent increase in web traffic to visitcos.com and a 101 percent increase in visitor guide orders from August through December 2012, according to the CVB.

With this year’s fires the CVB does not have any plans to ask for additional funding for a campaign similar to “Welcome Back.”

“Thankfully we still had some funds left to spend for leisure advertising and instead of spreading it out of the summer in print and online, we’ve decided to use it more aggressively right away to help educate and dispel any misconceptions about the destination,” said Chelsy Murphy, director of communications.

When the Canon City Chamber of Commerce was putting their marketing plan together, they collaborated with the CVB, who offered advice and sent the chamber their “Welcome Back” campaign plan as a guide.

The thousands of acres burned this year won’t be altering the state’s marketing plan, however. The Colorado Tourism Office said they don’t have any plans to change advertising and marketing strategies for any statewide recovery efforts.

“The fires, while a very serious event, did not impact the entire state.  Hence we are balancing our support for the communities impacted by the fires and our previously planned marketing, PR and social media efforts promoting the state for the summer season,” said director of the Colorado Tourism Office, Al White.

The office said they have been working closely with Colorado communities that have been affected by the fire along with industry partners.

Current priorities are to “continue to support the communities impacted by the fires and to assist in managing the visitor experience by providing resources for up-to-date information about the fires,” White said.

Shane said the Colorado Tourism Office has been working with the chamber to market the Canon City area. Setting up an Instagram account, being one of their efforts.

It is difficult to put a dollar amount on how much wildfires cost communities, especially in terms of tourism. While Colorado Springs is able to dip into their reserve fund, Canon City is working strictly off donations but Shane said the neighboring communities help each other out.

The uncertainty of next summer’s fire season means the future of marketing campaigns and the results of those campaigns for already affected areas is unknown too. 

Not only do these communities worry about their revenue, they worry about the families who rely on tourism for income. 

It is unclear what the next steps for rebranding are. Canon City hopes to gain around $140,000 through the state for later marketing when the Royal Gorge Park reopens. Colorado Springs, even with major, devastating fires two summers in a row, is riding out one marketing campaign.

by Kara Mason  

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Written by Kara Mason

Kara Mason is PULP's news editor. She is also the Society of Professional Journalists Colorado Pro Chapter president. Kara freelances for other regional publications, covering government, politics and the environment.

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