Hayden lawmaker White to lead Colorado Tourism Office

Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper named a Western Slope lawmaker to head the Colorado Tourism Office in the next administration.

Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, has earned a reputation as a champion of tourism, spending much of his four years on the Joint Budget Committee working to ensure the state spends what he believes it should on promoting the state’s tourist attractions.

“It’ll be great working for a governor who understands the industry and recognizes the economic benefit that it can provide the state,” White said. “The critical thing for tourism in the state of Colorado, and always had been, is to be able to stay consistent and aggressive in our marketing, and that depends on what kind of dollars we can get.”

White said the state’s tourism promotion over the past several years has been spotty at best. Years ago, it spent quite a bit on tourism advertising, but that dropped off in recent years.

Tourism spending is one of the first things to be cut during an economic downturn, White said, something he argues against because nothing says economic development and jobs in Colorado like tourism.

“We’ve gone from significant funding to zero funding to $5 million to $20 million,” he said. “Now we’re back to $15 million and Gov. (Bill) Ritter wants to cut that to $10 million next year. By spending money on tourism, we’re actually increasing the dollars available in the state coffers.”

White said that with every dollar the state spends on tourism promotion, it earns $6 in revenue. The private sector earns even more, about $200 for that $1 investment, he said.

White, who spent eight years in the Colorado House before being elected to the Senate in 2008, spent 10 years on the Colorado Tourism Office board. Before he was elected to the Legislature, White and his wife, Jean, had spent 25 years as owners and operators of several ski shops, a bike shop and a mountain lodge in Winter Park.

A vacancy committee for White’s Senate District 8 is scheduled to meet Jan. 3. The district is made up of Garfield, Eagle, Rio Blanco, Moffat, Routt and Jackson counties.

White’s appointment — he is the first Republican to be named to Hickenlooper’s administration — came as no surprise to many.

Reeves Brown, president of Club 20, said Hickenlooper couldn’t have found a more tireless advocate for tourism. White’s colleagues in the Senate echoed that sentiment.

“Senator White has been one of tourism’s strongest allies in the General Assembly,” said Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs. “Colorado is lucky to have someone with such passion and talent leading this effort.”

Said White, “I guarantee you there’s not a single person in the Legislature who ran for office this year who didn’t campaign on a platform of jobs and the economy. If you want to improve jobs and the economy, you invest in tourism.”

White said he plans to submit his letter of resignation to the state Senate later today. He said he will officially leave his office Jan. 1 to allow a vacancy committee to name a replacement before the Legislature convenes its 2011 session on Jan. 12.


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