April 11, 2014 Updated: April 11, 2014 at 5:54 pm
A few warriors from the front lines of the battle to bring foreign tourists to the United States had little knowledge about Colorado's recent wildfires and floods. Some knew the state had legalized recreational marijuana and most viewed the state as place to ski.
But they learned a lot more about Colorado Springs and the state Friday during a brief visit to promote international tourism in Colorado in the wake of a series of recent wildfires and floods. In a day of activities organized by the U.S. Commerce Department, the small group of tourism specialists from around the world toured The Broadmoor hotel, Garden of the Gods Park and downtown Manitou Springs before leaving to attend an expo and a series of meetings in Breckenridge.
The average Japanese tourist probably doesn't know about Colorado's recent fires and may not remember news reports last fall about flooding across the state, said Tamami Honda, a senior commercial specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Toyko. Trade specialists are on the front lines of promoting tourism to the U.S., since they typically are foreign nationals working for the U.S. government and remain in their posts up to 15 years. Most other embassy personnel are moved every three years or so.
"They are the backbone of our efforts," said Paul Bergman Jr., director of the Commerce Department's Commercial Service in Colorado and Wyoming and who organized the tour of Fort Collins and the Springs.
Besides Honda, the group included specialists from Brazil, Canada, Mexico and Norway. Robert Stackpole, a senior international trade specialist, led the delegation, which also attended a major tourism meeting this week in Chicago.
Michael Driver, international marketing director for the Colorado Tourism Office, said he got more questions at the Chicago meeting about voters legalizing possession and recreational sales of marijuana than he did about the fires and floods. He said most wanted to know the details about how legalization works, though Chinese tourism officials said they were reluctant to promote tours in a state where recreational use of marijuana is legal. Still, he said, Chinese officials indicated they would continue to book tours to the state.
"We wanted to let people in our embassies know that Colorado remains open for business and let them see all of the good things that are happening here," Bergman said. "We want them to see some of the areas hit by fires and floods and help those areas recover."
One way to do that, he said, it to establish connections between the international tourism specialists and officials with some of the state's tourism organizations, including the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, which hosted the group Friday for a series of presentations.
Many of the specialists, along with 600 other international travel industry officials, are expected to return to the Springs in February to attend the Go West Summit, an annual four-day meeting of tour operators, tourism industry officials and others from 14 western states and Canada that will be held at The Broadmoor hotel. The event, which includes a trade show, workshops and tours, is designed for participants to negotiate business contracts, establish relationships and gain a better understanding about industry issues.