When Elizabeth Fogarty started as director of Visit Grand Junction in March 2018, she came in with a focus on data.
More than 18 months after starting, that data is changing the way the organization does its business, because it can instantly receive feedback on advertising campaigns and shift directions based on new information.
"From an industry standpoint, marketing is the most disruptive industry right now," Fogarty said. "With our business, we now have access to data that didn't exist or we had to pay an agency for, and that was not affordable. There's been a significant shift for us."
In the past, Fogarty said it was common to work with an outside firm and have monthly meetings that hit the highlights of the past month. Today, she said all eight employees, including an intern, use data on a daily basis with their work. The organization is also in the process of hiring a new employee.
Visit Grand Junction's data platform uses the data visualization application Tableau to help inform the organization's data strategy. The data is focused on out-of-town visitors.
Fogarty said the organization can determine who has engaged with ads, why they clicked on them and what might interest them in the Grand Valley.
"It changes what we talk about anecdotally and gives us new strategies for campaigns," Fogarty said.
Through these programs, Visit Grand Junction can tell which visitors are looking at the area for mountain biking, and who loves art, wine or history. The staff has also determined that overnight visitors outnumber day trippers by a two-to-one ratio and they know where each visitor is coming from. The numbers exclude those who stop in town to fill up with gas and continue on a road trip.
Two-thirds of Grand Valley guests hail from inside Colorado while the rest are out of state.
The data is all privacy-protected, Fogarty said. Users opt in and the information is anonymous.
Grand Junction City Manager Greg Caton, who has worked closely with Fogarty through this effort, said the results are positive so far. He also said the city is seeing more growth in tourism compared to other areas.
"Some other destinations are not seeing as strong of growth as we've seen," he said.
Even with an increased lodging tax, current results show more tax income than was projected. So far, the city's lodging tax income is more than 5% above last year, while the projection was just over 4%.
That percentage is even more impressive, Caton and Fogarty both said, when considering that Grand Junction's convention center was closed for a remodel for about two months in the summer.
"To have that facility not being utilized to its fullest extent and still have the lodging tax up shows other strengths in our marketing departments," Caton said.
Fogarty said the lodging tax numbers held steady for those months when a drop was expected.
"It's a big accomplishment," Fogarty said.
Locals likely have not seen many of the advertising campaigns run by Visit Grand Junction and Fogarty said that is by design. Campaigns focus on areas where Grand Junction draws visitors. Locales with a direct flight to the area for at least part of the year — Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Dallas, Phoenix, Chicago and Los Angeles — are all heavily targeted.
Fogarty said Chicago was targeted prior to the announcement of a seasonal flight earlier this year on United Airlines. And she said the airline noticed the interest from Chicago in the Grand Valley when starting the flight.
Data also showed that a lot of people from Albuquerque, New Mexico, were coming to Grand Junction, and some marketing was shifting over there. Fogarty said she can also share that information with local organizations such as Colorado Mesa University for recruiting.
During the Outdoor Retailer conference in Denver, Visit Grand Junction helped lead an aggressive campaign with billboards showcasing the natural beauty of the area and stating ideas such as "Evidently Mother Nature plays favorites." It yielded positive results, Caton said.
"That was a winner," Caton said.
Early next year, Visit Grand Junction will help lead a rebranding effort for the Grand Valley, holding discussions and soliciting feedback. Fogarty said many of the positive comments found online can help form that brand.
"People have a positive sentiment, and we can weave that into our brand," she said.