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Colorado Tourism Sets All-time Visitor Spending Record in 2018

Research notes Colorado is top-ranked state destination for sustainable travel

DENVER (Aug. 8, 2019) – The Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) announced today that travelers set an all-time spending record of $22.3 billion on Colorado trips and vacations in 2018, a 6.7 percent increase from 2017, significantly above the national average spending increase of 4.1 percent.

Overnight stays by discretionary marketable leisure travelers – those targeted by Colorado’s “Come to Life” campaign -- was up to a record-high 19.5 million, a 3 percent increase from 2017. Colorado had the ninth-largest share of these travelers nationally in 2018, up from 18th largest in 2009.

Even as their spending climbed sharply, the overall number of visitors rose by just 1 percent, with increases centered among day trippers, about two thirds of whom are Colorado residents. The findings signal that the CTO’s strategy of attracting higher-spend visitors, rather than ever-increasing numbers of travelers, may be yielding results. 

The CTO’s 2018 research also found travelers across the country chose Colorado as the top-ranked destination for protecting and preserving its natural resources. In a survey fielded in April by Strategic Marketing & Research Insights (SMARI) to more than 2,500 U.S. travelers, Colorado was selected by 76 percent, compared with 73 percent for British Columbia, the next most highly rated state. Other ski states won relatively high rankings as well.

“Colorado’s rivers, forests, mountains, and plains are part of why so many people love our great state,” said Governor Jared Polis. “That’s why we continue to emphasize protecting our special wild places, ensuring Coloradans and visitors alike can enjoy them long into the future. With the full backing of tourism and outdoor recreation leaders across Colorado, we have been putting a collective stake in the ground to protect our natural assets, and others are paying attention.”

CTO research also shows Colorado residents are increasingly aware of and highly approve the state tourism office’s efforts to educate travelers about reducing impacts on natural resources, visiting in off-peak seasons and exploring less-visited destinations. Less than a year after the CTO introduced the new Care for Colorado Principles in a first-of-its-kind partnership with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, a resident sentiment study in April found 28 percent of residents already aware of the public awareness campaign.

“The leadership position that our state’s tourism industry has been carving out to promote responsible travel not only protects what makes our state such an extraordinary destination, it’s shaping up as an important competitive advantage,” said CTO Director Cathy Ritter.

“More and more travelers – especially Millennials and GenXer’s – are reporting that a destination’s sustainability practices are important in their choice of where to vacation,” she said. “Not only do we want to attract the kinds of travelers who care about our environment, now we have proof that Colorado is the best place for those travelers to find what they’re looking for.” 

Colorado’s overall domestic visitation for 2018 edged up to 85.2 million from 84.7 million in 2017. Overnight leisure and business travel was virtually flat overall, while day trips – which account for 56 percent of all Colorado travel, increased by 1 percent. Nationally, overnight and day travel were up by 2 percent in 2018.

With new nonstop international flights launched in 2018, Colorado for the first time attracted more than a million international visitors. About 40 percent of those 1,049,000 international visitors came from the two border markets of Mexico and Canada, with the remaining 60 percent from overseas markets, including the UK, Australia, France, Germany, China and Japan.

Overseas visitors represent Colorado’s highest-value traveler, spending an average $2,438 per person per trip in 2018. That compared with an average spend of $775 per person for visitors from Mexico and Canada.

Colorado’s domestic discretionary leisure traveler spent an average of $495 per person per trip, compared with $386 for the national average. Colorado’s highest-spending domestic travelers are people on ski trips, who spent an average of $1,208 per person per trip, compared with $405 for Colorado’s outdoor travelers.

Colorado hung on to its historic position as the top state for ski vacations. With a 19.8 percent share Colorado retained the fourth-largest share of outdoor trips.

Colorado’s record-high traveler spending also generated unprecedented tax receipts of $1.37 billion, with 61 percent going to the state’s local governments. To replace those visitor revenues would have cost each Colorado household $659 in additional taxes last year.

The number of jobs directly supported by the industry also was at a record high of 174,400, a 1.9 percent increase from 2017, slightly above the national average 

Colorado residents ranked tourism as the state’s most important industry (77 percent), surpassing agriculture/farming (73 percent), technology (71 percent), retail (66 percent), financial services (61 percent), aerospace (59 percent) and mining (51 percent).

See below for citations of CTO research and additional findings.

Travel Spending Sets New Records in 2018
Highlights from Colorado Travel Impacts 2018, Dean Runyan Associates 

Total direct travel spending in Colorado during 2018 exceeded $22.3 billion, a 6.7 percent increase from 2017, compared with 4.1 percent nationally.

This spending generated $1.37 billion in local and state tax revenues in 2018, not including real estate taxes. About 61 percent of these tourism-generated taxes goes to local governments. 

To replace these revenues would have cost the average Colorado household an additional $659 in taxes in 2018.

Visitor spending continued to spur job creation in 2018 with travel spending directly supporting 174,400 jobs, a 1.9 percent from 2017. This increase is slightly above the national increase of 1.8 percent. 

Tourism-related business earnings totaled $6.8 billion for 2018, up 7 percent from 2017.

Colorado’s travel spending increased by 65 percent from the depths of the recession, with an average annual spending increase of 5.7 percent from 2009 to 2018. Nationally, travel spending grew by 46 percent during the same period, for an average annual increase of 4.3 percent.

Marketable Leisure Travel Segment Breaks Records in 2018
Highlights from"Colorado Travel Year 2018"; "Colorado Resident Sentiment Survey," June 2019, Longwoods International 

Colorado attracted 85.2 million travelers in 2018, up slightly from 84.7 million in 2017. 

Overnight stays by discretionary marketable leisure travelers – those targeted by tourism campaigns -- was up to a record-high 19.5 million, a 3 percent increase from 2017. Colorado had the ninth-largest share of these travelers nationally in 2018, up from 18th largest in 2009.

In 2018, Colorado’s discretionary leisure traveler spent an average $495 per person per trip, compared with $386 nationally. 

Colorado’s highest-value marketable travelers were people on ski trips who spent $1,208 per person. Next were people on resort/golf trips ($571), touring vacationers ($492), and city vacationers ($412).

The average length of a Colorado vacation trip in 2018 increased in from 4.1 nights to 5.0 nights, which helped drive the increase in visitor spending.

Colorado residents ranked tourism as the state’s most important industry (77 percent), surpassing agriculture/farming (73 percent), technology (71 percent), retail (66 percent), financial services (61 percent), aerospace (59 percent) and mining (51 percent).

Residents are very positive (71 percent) about the CTO’s role in promoting environmental stewardship. Resident awareness of the Care for Colorado Principles was at 28 percent in April, less than a year after the rollout of the public awareness campaign.

Colorado's Marketing Campaign Among Most Cost-Effective in U.S.; Sustainability Increasingly Important to Travelers
Highlights from "2018-2019 Advertising Effectiveness," Strategic Marketing and Research Insights (SMARI), May 2018

The Colorado Tourism Office’s “Come To Life” marketing campaign ranked among the top 10 percent nationally for return on investment, generating $479 from travelers who were aware of the campaign for each $1 spent on campaign media. 

The creative for CTO’s winter campaign ranked in the top 10 percent nationally for inspiring travelers to want to “visit the state” and “learn more about things to see and do in the state.” The campaign introduced the CTO’s new “Snow’s Perfect State” positioning, aimed at broadening Colorado’s winter appeal beyond skiing.

The importance of a destination’s sustainability practices in attracting travelers continues to rise. CTO’s latest report shows 42 percent of travelers nationally saying a destination’s sustainability practices are at least somewhat important to their choice of destinations, with 20 percent saying it’s very important. This is up from 36 percent in 2017, with just 15 percent saying it was very important.

Travelers age 18-24 and 35-55 were most likely to place importance on a destination’s sustainability practices, with travelers age 55+ least likely.

Colorado Residents Comprise Large Travel Segment
Highlights from Arrivalist findings for 2018

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

Coloradans continue to comprise the largest percentage of the state’s travelers. Other key origin states are Texas, California, Kansas, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Nebraska.

Data indicates both long and short haul travelers spend between three and four days in the state while regional travelers spend around two days. 

Colorado Attracts Record International Visitation in 2018
Highlights from "International Market Data and Analysis for Colorado," Tourism Economics, July 2019

International visitation to Colorado topped 1 million for the first time with 1.049 million visitors in 2018, an increase of 7.44 percent over 2017. 

On average, overseas international travelers continued to spend more per person per trip than any other group. The average trip expenditure for Colorado’s top overseas markets (the UK, Australia, France, Germany, China and Japan) was $2,438 per person per trip. The average spend for Mexico and Canada, which contribute about 40 percent of the state’s international visitors, was $775 per person per trip.

Increased travel from France and the UK is linked to new nonstop international flights out of Denver International Airport, including additional service by Norwegian Air and United Airlines.

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

To view the full reports for Colorado Travel Impacts 2018 (Dean Runyan Associates) and Colorado Travel Year Report 2018 (Longwoods International), visit industry.colorado.com/research.  

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*Updated on 8/14/19 with the latest information.

About the Colorado Tourism Office: The Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) is a division of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade. The CTO’s mission is to generate traveler spending by promotion of Colorado as a four-season, four-corner, world-class travel destination and development of compelling, sustainable travel experiences throughout the state. In 2018, Colorado travelers spent $22.3 billion, generating $1.37 billion in local and state revenues, reducing the tax burden for every Colorado household by $659. Tourism is the state’s second largest employer, directly supporting 174,400 jobs. For more information, please visit https://industry.colorado.com.