Colorado Tourism Sets All-Time Records for Eighth Consecutive Year

Research Ranks Colorado Marketing Campaign Among Strongest in the US

DENVER (June 28, 2018) – The Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) today announced that Colorado continued an eight-year streak of record-setting growth in visitors, traveler spending and tax generation in 2017. New studies show Colorado last year attracted 84.7 million U.S.-based travelers plus nearly 1 million international visitors who collectively spent $20.9 billion and generated $1.28 billion in state and local tax revenue.

The state’s tourism industry has been on a path of sustained growth since the depths of the recession in 2009, with domestic visitor numbers increasing by 41 percent, more than double the national growth rate of 20 percent.

Last year’s domestic visitor trends boosted Colorado up a notch to rank 8th nationally for its share of marketable leisure travelers, who are the target of the state’s ‘Come To Life’ marketing campaign. While several top-tier travel states lost market share last year, Colorado retained its record-high 3.1 percent share of the coveted travel segment. 

“With the full participation of destinations across the state, Colorado continues to build a national success story that is generating taxes for state and local jurisdictions, supporting businesses and creating new jobs,” said CTO Director Cathy Ritter. “By taking our message about superlative Colorado travel opportunities to an ever more national audience, we are generating travel in every corner of our state, from our cities to our mountains and plains.”

The announcement includes findings from a collection of annual studies detailing the impact of Colorado’s tourism industry during 2017 along with the effectiveness of the state’s award-winning ‘Come To Life’ marketing campaign.

One of those studies for the first time documented the impact of a destination’s sustainability practices on a traveler’s choice of where to vacation. Strategic Marketing and Research Insights found 43 percent of travelers said sustainability was important in their selection of a destination, with 12 percent of those describing it as very important. Millennials were the most likely age group to cite the importance of sustainability. A total of 53 percent identified sustainability as important to their destination choice, compared with 45 percent for Gen Xers and 25 percent for Baby Boomers and beyond. 

Travel Spending Sets New Records in 2017

Highlights from Colorado Travel Impacts 2017, Dean Runyan Associates 

Total direct travel spending in Colorado increased by 6.5 percent in 2017, more than twice the national average increase of 3.0 percent, reaching an all-time high of $20.9 billion.

Researchers noted that visitor spending on air travel was up by 5.8 percent and lodging tax receipts swelled by 6.9 percent, reflecting in part successful efforts to fill new hotel rooms coming online in Denver. A 13 percent increase in gas prices also contributed to increased traveler spending.

Underscoring the importance of tourism for Colorado residents, the state’s travel industry generated $1.28 billion in local and state tax revenues in 2017, up 5.7 percent from 2016.  To replace those visitor taxes would have required an additional annual $228 tax payment from each of Colorado’s 5.61 million residents.

Visitor spending also spurred job creation. In 2017, the Colorado travel industry directly supported 171,000 jobs and earnings of more than $6.3 billion, a 3.4 percent increase over 2016. 

Record Visitation; Marketable Trips Reach All-Time High

Highlights from Colorado Travel Year Report 2017, Longwoods International

Colorado welcomed an unprecedented 84.7 million visitors in 2017, up from the 82.4 million who visited in 2016. That 2.8 percent increase in visitors was 40 percent higher than the national average increase of 2.0 percent.

The 2017 numbers included 37.9 million overnight visitors and 46.8 million day travelers. The state’s most valuable travel segment – marketable leisure trips – reached 18.9 million, a 2 percent increase over 2016. Marketable leisure trips, unlike business travel or visits to friends and family, represent travelers who have a choice of destinations and thus can be influenced by marketing. Nationally, marketable leisure travel was flat. 

"Colorado continues to outpace the vast majority of states in the sustained tourism growth it has achieved over the past decade,” said Michael Erdman, senior vice president of Longwoods International. “While travel nationwide has risen 20 percent since the depths of the recession in 2009, Colorado has achieved double that growth, with visitor numbers improving by a spectacular 41 percent in the 2009 to 2017 period." 

Colorado’s Ad Campaign Ranked Among Most Effective in U.S.

Highlights from April 2017 through March 2018 Marketing Effectiveness Research, Strategic Marketing & Research Insights (SMARInsights)

Colorado’s award-winning ‘Come To Life’ marketing campaign continues to be an industry leader, far outpacing the average return on investment for state marketing campaigns. In a review of the CTO’S marketing efforts between April 2017 and March 2018, Strategic Marketing & Research Insights (SMARInsights) found Colorado, far outpacing the industry averages for effectiveness.

SMARInsights reported the campaign generated significant incremental travel, driving more than 2.66 million influenced trips to Colorado with a total impact of $4.45 billion. Based on a media spend of $8.14 million, the campaign generated a record-high return on investment of $546 for every $1 of paid media. This was up from $534 in the prior marketing year, mainly due to an increased focus on a national audience. The state’s return on investment has ranked consistently among the top 10 percent nationally in recent years.

“Colorado’s sustained marketing campaign over the past six years has built a well-recognized and strong destination brand. Consumers are interested in the Colorado product, and the marketing enables the industry to be successful even with negative external conditions, such as the low snowfall for the 2017-18 ski season,” said Denise Miller, executive vice president of SMARInsights. “In spite of these headwinds, the state’s return on their marketing dollars continued to grow and is one of the highest in the country. CTO’s continuing efforts have positioned the state as a leading tourism destination and an aspirational destination.”

Arrivalist Tracks Visitation

Highlights from Arrivalist 2017 Report 

The CTO in 2017 engaged a new research platform called Arrivalist, which identifies travel patterns and the influence of CTO marketing campaigns by monitoring travelers’ mobile devices. 

Among the top Arrivalist findings for 2017:

• The five states most likely to contribute “high-value travelers” to Colorado are Texas, Colorado, Florida, California and Illinois. Travelers from those states are most likely to stay three nights or longer on a Colorado vacation.

• The most-visited cities in Colorado (in order) were: Denver, Colorado Springs, Breckenridge, Aurora, Ft. Collins, Englewood, Littleton, Pueblo, Estes Park and Vail. 

Colorado attracts record international visitation in 2017

Highlights from Tourism Economics Colorado International Market Travel 2017 Report 

A record 989,000-plus international visitors traveled to Colorado in 2017, an increase of 5.4 percent over 2016 and 29.2 percent over the five years since 2012. More than 587,000 of those visitors were from overseas markets, up 7.7 percent from 2016 and 24.9 percent since 2012.

Colorado’s top international markets are Mexico and Canada, followed by the overseas markets of the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, China and Japan.

On average, the state’s international travelers spent a record $1,763 per trip, with the overseas travelers spending even more, $2,424 per trip. The overall travel spend for international travelers also saw double-digit growth over the past five years, at 23.7 percent. 

Colorado currently has in-market representation in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

To view the full reports for Colorado Travel Impacts 2017 (Dean Runyan Associates) and Colorado Travel Year Report 2017 (Longwoods International), visit


Colorado is a four-season destination offering unparalleled adventure and recreational pursuits, a thriving arts scene, a rich cultural heritage, flavorful cuisine, and 28 renowned ski areas and resorts. The state's breathtaking scenic landscape boasts natural hot springs, the headwaters of seven major rivers, many peaceful lakes and reservoirs, 12 national parks and monuments and 58 mountain peaks that top 14,000 feet. For more information or a copy of the 2018 Colorado Official State Vacation Guide, visit or call 1-800 COLORADO.

Follow Colorado on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, Foursquare, Flickr, Tumblr and YouTube. 

Media are invited to visit the Colorado Media Room for story ideas, news releases, image gallery, and other resources.

# # #