Shane Martin checks out the grow room at 3D Cannabis Center, a recreational pot shop in Denver in January 2014. (RJ Sangosti, Denver Post file)

New leader for Colorado tourism to take closer look at pot’s impact

Cathy Ritter, the former director of the Illinois Bureau of Tourism, is surprised pot tourism hasn't been more closely examined in Colorado: "I think it's a great topic for discussion and a great topic for more research"

A few months ago Cathy Ritter was settling into Denver’s Congress Park neighborhood with her husband, walking to Rockies games and relishing being close to her daughter’s family.

Then the former director of the Illinois Bureau of Tourism saw a job posting that could work for her.

On Thursday, Gov. John Hickenlooper named her as the new director of the Colorado Tourism Office, replacing Al White.

Ritter — no relation to former Gov. Bill Ritter — plans a 90-day listening tour of Colorado.

“I want to get familiar with the faces and places of Colorado so I can be as informed as possible,” said the 13-year employee of the Illinois government and former newspaper reporter.

New leader for Colorado tourism to take closer look at pot’s impact
Cathy Ritter (Special to The Denver Post)

In Illinois, she helped develop a five-year strategic plan that guided the state’s $60 million tourism promotion efforts. She spent months bouncing ideas off residents and tourism leaders around the state, setting quantifiable goals and seeding a clear understanding of the state’s role in growing tourism. The theme of that “blueprint for action,” she said, was “grow, promote and learn.”

She plans to help develop a similar blueprint for Colorado’s vibrant tourism industry, which last year saw traveler spending reach an all-time high of $18.6 billion, a 7.4 percent increase over the previous record set in 2013.

She promises to be attune to locals in towns where tourism is creating big impacts, stirring contentious issues with traffic congestion, affordable housing and the quality of life.

“You have to sensitive to driving activity in an area that is saturated,” she said.

While the state’s tourism leaders have labored to steer clear of marijuana — avoiding giving legal weed any credit for the state’s recently record-setting tourism surges — Ritter hopes to open a vibrant discussion on marijuana. She wants to research the role of legal weed in drawing — and possibly deterring — visits to the state.

“Seems to be that the tourism program today is essentially silent on the whole issue,” Ritter said. “I’ve looked through all the websites and visitor materials and not word. But that’s the first thing everyone mentioned when I said I was moving to Colorado. I think it’s a great topic for discussion and a great topic for more research. It makes a world of sense for the Colorado tourism board to get its arms around the issue.”

Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, jblevins@denverpost.com or @jasonblevins

This story was first published on DenverPost.com