By Caitlin Switzer
DELTA—(October 1, 2013) With a budget of just $79,000 this year, Kelli Hepler is accustomed to making great things happen on a shoestring for Colorado’s Western Slope. Honored with a Colorado Governors’ award for her work in tourism promotion just two years ago, Hepler is best known for promoting and organizing Delta County’s Tourism Cabinet—she is the genius behind the “Our Side of the Divide” campaign. Few know, however, that Hepler is now working with the State’s Office of Tourism as well, to promote agritourism, or that she actually got her start here in Montrose.
“I now have a voice with the Colorado Tourism Office,” Hepler said. “I represent the Western Slope—they hear from us now–and I love that!”
A commercial artist by profession, Hepler started her own business 27 years ago.
“One of my first clients was the Montrose Visitor and Convention Bureau,” she said. “I had a little office behind the Hallmark store. Over the years, Delta County Tourism became my client. They cannot hire an employee, only a consultant, but I have been with them for more than ten years.”
The strength of Delta County’s agritourism campaign can be seen on the web site, www.deltacountycolorado.com, and on the Facebook site as well. Farm tours and the local events highlighting food and wine continue to draw visitors from across the state and across the nation. Hepler said she is also excited about some of the things happening here in Montrose, especially the Western Colorado Hospitality Summit set for Oct. 24-25.
“I love the hospitality summit,” Hepler said, “and I love that Colorado Mesa University is offering hospitality management– one of my longtime goals is to see 30 percent of our front line businesses get this kind of training. And I have been going to Region 10 economic development meetings, where tourism is a big item on the list.”
Hepler said she does not understand the City of Montrose’s decision to pull $600,000 in funds away from the former Montrose Association of Commerce & Tourism earlier this year, however, after a city-driven process had created the organization in 2010.
“I don’t know why they did it,” she said. “Jenni (Sopsic, of the former Montrose ACT) was very professional, and they were making real strides. I thought that what had been happening in Montrose was really moving in the right direction. I know there were some folks who thought there was too much emphasis on the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, but when you have a national park right next door…
“There is a lot of enthusiasm there now,” she said. “Do they have the expertise? At this point, only time will tell.”