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Posted: November 01, 2008

State of the State: November

Experience, technology among social trends affecting tourism industry

For Surface Creek Winery owner Jim Durr, the key to successful tourism promotion is to listen to customers.

"The tourists will show you the way," says Durr, a member of the Colorado Tourism Board. "Experiences are what you offer, but what you’re selling are the stories that people take home."

Experience-seeking travelers comprise one of the social trends that travel-culture expert Daniel Levine says will influence Colorado’s tourism industry in the next decade. Levine is executive director of the New York-based Avant-Guide Institute, a guidebook publisher and consultant on cultural trends.

Levine told the 2008 Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference in Beaver Creek in October that several trends are significantly affecting the way the tourism industry serves customers. Travelers want unique experiences that they can describe to their friends back home, he said.

"It’s about brag-ability. It’s about telling people something you’ve done that they haven’t done," he said. "In the travel industry, think about what experience you can give people that they can’t get anyplace else. The bottom line is about surprising and delighting your customer."

Agritourism, a fast-growing industry in rural Colorado that promotes farms, ranches, and food and fiber production as tourist attractions, illustrates the experience trend, says Doug Caskey, executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. He said tourist demand is growing for culinary and agricultural attractions.

"People will actually pay money to go to a farm, a cattle ranch, a vineyard - and work," Caskey said.

Several important trends affecting tourism have their roots in technology, Levine said. The "tyranny of transparency," as Levine called it, is the fast rise of travel-oriented websites that let users post reviews of hotels and other attractions. The freewheeling commentary on such sites generates fear among many tourist-dependent businesses.

"It’s taken the control of how we image ourselves and put it in the hands of our customers," Levine said. "This trend is not a flash in the pan, and it’s not going away."

He suggested that businesses provide top-notch service to customers, which should minimize negative comments and boost positive comments in online forums. Businesses also need to monitor websites for customer comments.

"You should be aware of all the major blogs and websites that refer to you," Levine said. "Answer each and every complaint."

Web-enabled handheld devices, such as the iPhone, will transform the travel industry as they become more popular. Potential customers will be able to use their handhelds to surf travel sites and change travel plans and reservations at a moment’s notice. As a result, Levine said, tourism-related businesses must be ready to answer customer requests and engage in two-way dialogue with them.

Today’s consumers - including tourists - also are seeking personalized and customized products and experiences, Levine said. Such options for tourist-related businesses include personalized travel itineraries and custom-labeled products for individual customers.

"Creating things that are personalized for customers has become cheaper than it’s ever been," he said.

Finally, Levine said, businesses can promote their eco-friendly activities to attract customers. Consumers are interested in green initiatives, and "we should do something cool to let our customers and guests know we’re committed to it," he said. --Bob Kretschman, Western Slope correspondent

Small business
SBA dials up hotline for surviving tough times

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Colorado District Office announced on Oct. 1 the launch of a Small Business Economic Hotline for area businesspeople who have questions about doing business in these uncertain economic times.

Calls to the hotline will be returned within an hour by an SBA staffer in Denver, the agency said. The hotline number is (303) 844-2607, ext. 401.

"Small businesses across Colorado have raised concerns about ways they can better survive given today’s economic situation," said Greg Lopez, SBA’s Colorado district director.

"I believe it is critical that the SBA provide a single phone number for our small business community to get the answers they need on questions relating to surviving in this environment," he said. "Our business experts from the Small Business Development Centers, SCORE, and the Mi Casa Resource Center can advise them on ways to enhance their marketing plans, re-evaluate their business plans, and look for new sources of financing."

SCORE, a nonprofit dedicated to educating entrepreneurs and helping small businesses nationwide, is a resource partner with the SBA.

"Many of these services are free of charge and are available across the state," Lopez said. --Mike Taylor

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