COLORADO— The Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) announced last week 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 leisure travelers – those targeted by Colorado’s “Come to Life” campaign— was up to a record-high 19.5 million, a three 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 one 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 two 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’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 $806 in additional taxes last year.
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).