NEWS

Tourism in Colorado up

Date: Jun. 9th, 2010
Contact: Drew FitzGerald Phone: 303-954-1381

Travel to Colorado rose for the sixth straight year to a record 51.7 million domestic visitors in 2009, a 1.1 percent increase considered a victory over other states that saw double-digit declines from the recession.

But tourism spending in the state fell 11 percent to $8.6 billion last year, mostly because of wary business travelers and more frugal day tourists, according to travel surveyor Longwoods International.

Colorado tourism promoters nevertheless touted the results as a sign that the state tourism industry might have weathered the worst of the recession.

"There's an awful lot of states that would love to have that report," said Rich Grant, a spokesman for Visit Denver, the city's convention and visitors bureau.

Colorado held steady in overnight visits, which generate far more tourism dollars than day visits. Among leisure travelers, overnight trips in the state rose 3 percent.

Overnight business travel to Colorado fell 13 percent from 2008, however, because of economic uncertainty and what tourism officials called the "AIG effect" — the drop in convention, meeting and resort business from companies afraid of bad publicity for conspicuous spending.

Denver fared even worse at drawing business travelers, with a 20 percent drop since 2008. That compared with a 19 percent decline nationally, though officials said they expect that to change.

"As the market comes back, companies will start to spend," said Don Marostica, executive director of the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade. "We're starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel."

Colorado also held on to its No. 1 national share of lucrative overnight ski trips despite a challenge from California, which increased its market share thanks to locals there seeking cheaper skiing trips closer to home.

Visit Denver president Richard Scharf said tourism officials stepped up their marketing in Colorado and neighboring states after realizing economic uncertainty was pushing vacationers to travel shorter distances.

"We adjusted our marketing plan based on the economy," said Scharf, who is also chairman of the Colorado Tourism Office. "That's what I think got us through '09."

As consumers, visitors from Colorado are more likely to report having a good time on their trip, but they also spend less because they are better at finding bargains, Longwoods vice president Michael Erdman said.

Erdman recommended that state tourism promoters do more to attract out-of-state tourists and try to lengthen such visitors' stays. But on the whole, the analyst said, "what you've got seems to be a winning formula."

"Keep doing what you're doing," he said. "It's rare that I have to say, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it."