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The challenge of marketing Alamosa

Article by Marcia Darnell

Commerce – August 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine

ALAMOSA, like most small towns in Colorado, tries hard to put itself on the tourist map. Small businesses and individuals work to showcase their local attractions and natural wonders. Districts and boards, associations and directors, struggle to turn a trickle of tourists into a steady flow of dollars.

Alamosa, and by extension Alamosa County, is trying something different. By combining its chamber of commerce, tourism office, and marketing district, the area hopes to get more for its efforts — and expenditures.

Debra Goodman on the train from Alamosa
Debra Goodman on the train from Alamosa

Leading the experiment is Debra Goodman, the new executive director of the chamber/tourism combo since mid-November.

“This is not following someone else’s lead,” said Goodman, 42. “This is Alamosa thinking outside the box.”

Goodman came to Alamosa from Gunnison, and has also lived in Boston, Chicago, and Vermont. She graduated from Bentley College in Massachusetts with a business degree with emphasis in marketing. Her new job came with a daunting four-page job description.

“It includes minor things, like ‘build a visitors center,'” she joked.

She’s up for the job, though. “I think it’s great,” she said. “There’s just so much excitement about it in the community.”

The big switch has been in the works for years. Alamosa has two lodging taxes, each of which has its own administrative board, which created lots of duplication of everything from personnel to office supplies. In addition, the chamber of commerce shared office space with the tourism folks, which meant both entities, were publishing brochures and websites, helping stray tourists, and answering queries about the San Luis Valley by mail and phone.

“The marketing district board and the tourism board really had the same mission,” said Terry Smith. “We had passed two issues on the ballot, the tourism tax, and marketing tax, both a ‘bed’ tax on lodging, both to promote tourism. They technically had to be handled separately, but they really had the same purpose. We thought it would be more effective if we just had the one board and we could coordinate a lot of efforts.”

Smith, a Realtor, was president of the marketing district, and now heads the combined board.

Alamosa County Commissioner Darius Allen saw the potential for a combined office years ago. “I always wondered why we had a separate chamber and tourism board.” he said, ” The two groups seemed to be trying to do the same thing.”

“We get more bang for the buck,” agreed Clancy Spicer, owner of the Inn of the Rio Grande. “There’s less duplication of effort and funding. And with one director, we have a coordinated vision and program that reflects the various ideas of promoting travel.”

“It’s taken a lot of hard work from a lot of people to put this together,” said chamber president Delzia Pavlovsky, “and so far it’s working smoothly. Debra has been a key asset in it, as well as all the boards. So far it’s been a good combination. I think it’s going to be a positive thing, because chamber and tourism fit hand in hand.”

TOWARD THAT END, Goodman works closely with two other economic development promotion entities, the SLV Development Resources Group and the Alamosa Community Development Corporation. “We’re all in constant dialogue now,” she said.

Another group, Alamosa Downtown Merchants Inc., has agreed to partner with the chamber. Its 40 members will join the new chamber (a BOGO on ADMI dues) and Goodman will help market downtown to visitors. Both groups are enthusiastic about teaming up.

“Marketing is a passion for me,” said Goodman. “It’s limitless. We have a knife and fork in the agricultural community, we can promote businesses, natural resources, and recreational opportunities.”

“Technically, that’s part of the chamber’s mission too, promoting the area and promoting businesses in the area,” said board president Smith. “With one person overseeing the workings, we felt we could hire a better quality individual by combining the funds, and then eliminating duplication: Office personnel, phone systems, and office systems could be combined.”

The old chamber of commerce depot has been reorganized to resemble a business. The new chamber/tourism office has a whole new staff, including an office manager, two sales and marketing wizards, a graphic designer, and a self-described “Jack of all trades.”

ALL THIS IS FUNDED through three sources. Chamber memberships and fundraising comprise a third of the budget. The Alamosa County Tourism Development Board provides another third of the budget via lodging tax. The remainder comes from the local marketing district, through the Alamosa County Events and Facilities Local Marketing District Advisory Board.

So far, the combination experiment seems to be working, mostly due to Goodman’s energy and expertise. A case in point is the new tourist train between Alamosa and La Veta. Ed Ellis, president of Permian Basin Railways, approached her in mid-January to ask about promoting a passenger train. Goodman jumped on the idea, and the first train rolled Feb. 9, garnering a lot of press for the train and the area.

“I’m pleased with the results so far,” said business owner Spicer. “I think she’s what has made it successful to date.”

“It’s worked out really well,” Commissioner Allen agreed. “They picked the right one in Debra. She’s on top of things. In a year’s time we’re going to have come far.”

According to Allen, the chamber’s board considers the combo’s first year a trial. “The challenge will be just to keep our marketing district board together,” he said, “to keep everyone like a team of horses pulling together to pull tourism dollars into this area.”

Chamber president Pavlovsky agrees. “You would think that combining two boards would be a challenge,” she said, “but there’s been a lot of support, and no real problems. I think our biggest challenge is just to increase tourism. We’re excited. Stay tuned for some good things to come.”

Various groups have talked in recent years about building a convention center, but that idea is on hold. For now, Goodman is focused on bringing more tourists into the San Luis Valley. One way to do that is by capitalizing on shifts in travel trends. Since 9/11, more Americans are traveling internally, and since the leap in gasoline prices, more people are traveling within their region. That local focus makes smaller tourist venues more attractive.

“High school senior trips are growing into family trips,” Goodman said. “In the summer, we have ten thousand visitors a day coming over La Veta Pass. My goal is to bring in more groups. Our recreation product is excellent. Our culinary attractions are even better. We must have the highest per capita burritos in the country!”

Goodman also cites the “beach” at the Great Sand Dunes and the new water park at Inn of the Rio Grande as stellar visitor draws. She plans to improve the billboards that greet people coming into Alamosa, as well as the signage on local businesses. The chamber’s website is also top priority, and will be combined with the tourism office’s website. Check it out at

“Bringing it together is natural,” Goodman said. “It’s good to keep things under one roof. It’s easy to collaborate and cooperate.”

Marcia Darnell lives and writes in the San Luis Valley.