Colorado hosted a record 60 million visitors who left almost $17 billion in the state in 2012. The record year was charted by three studies detailing visitation and spending and the role of the Colorado Tourism Office's "Come to Life" advertising campaign over the winter.
Last year, visitor research showed 57.9 million visitors spent $10.76 billion in 2011. This year's studies show the number of marketable vacationers — travelers who chose Colorado over other destinations — increased 2 percent in 2012, and spending climbed nearly 6 percent over 2011, which had ranked as the best year for the state's tourism efforts. Still, the 2 percent increase in marketable travelers compares with a 9 percent increase nationally, which led the state to slip from luring 2.7 percent of the country's share of vacationers in 2011 to 2.4 percent in 2012.
Al White, the director of the Colorado Tourism Office who is driving to get a 3 percent share of the U.S. travel market, said, "It pained me to see that slip, for sure."
Maybe it was the weak spring snow in 2012 or the fires last summer, he said. But the overall picture — record revenues and visits — eclipses any bad news, White said.
Even if it's a smaller sliver of a growing pie, it's more people and "they are spending more than ever when they come," White said.
Travel-research firm Dean Runyon & Associates tallied $16.7 billion in direct visitor spending in Colorado in 2012. That direct spending was 5.7 percent more than 2011, besting the average of 4 percent annual increases since 1996.
That tourist spending delivered $918 million to local and state tax coffers in 2012, which translates to $483 for every household in Colorado, according to the Runyon analysis, which charted the economic impact of tourism in Colorado from 1996 through 2012.
Tourist spending also indirectly supported 144,600 jobs with earnings of $4.3 billion in 2012. That's down from an all-time high of 148,200 jobs with earnings of $4.2 billion in 2008.
The annual Longwoods International study showed a record 60 million visitors in Colorado last year with an all-time high of 14.6 million categorized as "marketable leisure trips," or visitors whose vacation was influenced by marketing efforts.
Overnight trips climbed to a record 29.5 million last year, a 2 percent increase from 2011's 29 million overnight visits. That includes overnight ski trips, a market Colorado owns with 19.4 percent of all ski vacations in the country. Statewide, overnight visitors spent $9.6 billion, a 3 percent annual increase. More than half of the overnight spending was in metro Denver.
Last month, Visit Denver released its Longwoods study showing 2012 as a record year with 13.6 million visitors — a 3 percent increase over the record-setting 2011 — with overnight travelers spending $3.6 billion in the Mile High City. Longwoods' state-visitation study showed the state's increase in marketable leisure travel was led by city trips — up 13 percent in 2012. Outdoor trips, which have climbed nationally more than 25 percent over the past decade, climbed 3 percent.
White credits the record 2012 to his office's $6.1 million "Come to Life" print and television marketing campaign for summer and winter. Based on a study by Strategic Marketing & Research Inc., or SMARI, the campaign spurred 360,000 winter vacations in Colorado and a $500 million impact from October 2012 through April 2013. In the first nine months of 2012, the summer-spring campaign sparked $898 million in spending. The summer and winter marketing campaigns generated $1.4 billion in visitor spending and 1.3 million incremental trips, according to the firm's research.
There are no plans to change or overhaul the "Come to Life" campaign, which runs through next spring, said White, who points out that the campaign returned $228 in vacationer spending on each tax dollar invested.
"It's a platform we don't see any reason to leave, because it resonates," he said.
For White, the campaign's effectiveness, visitor spending impact and particularly the tax revenue from tourism are the numbers he needs to sway legislators when it comes time to ponying up dwindling budget dollars to support marketing.
"For those legislators, it's great for them to look their constituents in the eye and say for a family of four, that's almost $500 from people who are coming from ... across the country to pay your taxes," said White, a former state representative, noting that the comprehensive reports from Runyon, Longwoods and SMARI bolster support for steady tourism funding. "When you get these kinds of returns into the private sector and into local and state tax coffers ... that's something that can't be ignored from a policymaker standpoint."
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jasontblevins