For the fifth year in a row, Colorado hosted a record number of tourists who have left a record amount of cash in their wake.
The Colorado Tourism Office on Wednesday reported that 77.7 million visitors to the state in 2015 spent an all-time high of $19.1 billion, generating $1.13 billion in state and local taxes, an increase of almost 7 percent from 2014.
Colorado’s 31 percent rebound in visitation from the tourism-pinching depth of the recession back in 2009 is nearly double the national recovery of 16 percent.
The numbers come from a trio of state-commissioned annual surveys of Colorado visitors: Longwoods International counts the total visitors and analyzes the types of travelers Colorado attracts; Dean Runyon Associates gauges the economic impact of those travelers; and the Strategic Marketing & Research Insights group measures the effectiveness of the state’s marketing efforts.
The state’s tourism boosters said the numbers prove the effectiveness of their marketing and the wisdom of spending taxpayer dollars to lure vacationers. Colorado spent about $19 million on vacation promotion in 2015, up from $17 million the previous year and up from $5.5 million in 2000, the year the Colorado Tourism Office formed.
“There is a lot of evidence that the marketing campaign has a lot to do with the increases we are seeing,” said Cathy Ritter, the executive director of the Colorado Tourism Office.
Dean Runyon Associates’ state-commissioned research showed that 66 percent of the state’s visitors in 2015 paid to spend at least one night. The 19.1 million visitors to Colorado generated the equivalent of $207 in taxes for each of Colorado’s 5.5 million residents. Tourists in 2015 supported 160,000 workers who earned $5.5 billion. These are the numbers the office wants to trumpet, showing Colorado residents how short-term visitors leave a lasting impact.
“They come to our state and spend money and then they go back to where they came from. We do not provide them with schools or infrastructure. It’s a pure economic benefit,” said Ritter, who recently completed a tour of the state, listening to business owners and residents discuss how tourism plays a role in their communities. “There are many parts of Colorado that truly benefit from the influx of tourists. The impact of tourism can be oversized in some of our rural areas.”
Visit Denver, the visitor and convention bureau for the city, last month reported a record 16.4 million tourists spent $5 billion in Denver in 2015, setting a tourism record for the 10th year in a row. Denver ranks as the state’s top visitor destination.
The state’s “Come to Life” advertising campaign continues to rank as one of the top performing state marketing efforts in the country. Strategic Marketing & Research showed the print, television, radio and online marketing push drove 2.6 million additional visits to the state, creating a total impact of $3.5 billion.
Based on the seasonal $7.4 million spent to spread the campaign across the country, “Come to Life” returned $478 for every dollar spent, up from $361 in 2014.
The campaign “achieved one of the highest returns on investment of any destination nationally,” Strategic Marking & Research executive vice president Denise Miller said.
For the 2016 spring and summer campaign, the Colorado Tourism Office expanded its national footprint with new advertising that stayed within the “Come to Life” playbook.
The new commercials and print ads reach into new national markets, and early returns show the campaign continues to be effective, Ritter said.
“We don’t see any benefit of moving away from that philosophy, which is that coming to Colorado changes people’s lives and makes them feel inspired,” Ritter said.
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