Colorado bursts into top 10 tourist-attracting states with record year

Colorado moved back into the top 10 tourist-drawing states in America for the first time in 22 years in 2016, as it set records for a sixth straight year for the numbers of tourists that streamed into the Centennial State and the amount of money they pumped into the local economy.

The state drew 82.4 million visitors who spent $19.7 billion last year and generated $1.2 billion in local and state tax revenue, according to a trio of studies released Wednesday by the Colorado Tourism Office. That represented a boost of 6 percent in visitors over 2015 and an increase in spending of 2.7 percent.

Maybe more importantly, according to CTO executive director Cathy Ritter, the state was able to attract marketable leisure travelers — those tourists who could vacation anywhere but choose Colorado and spend 65 percent more per trip than people who come to the state to visit friends and relatives — at a rate 9.3 percent higher than the previous year. The increase in that dynamic was more than twice that of the national average of 4 percent.

Largely because of that, Colorado's share of the national tourist market climbed to 3.1 percent, moving it up from the 13th-most-visited state in America to No. 9. The last time Colorado cracked the top 10 states for traveler market share was 1994 — the year after the state decided to eliminate funding for tourism marketing.

Since that time, Colorado lapsed in comparison to other states until it re-revved its marketing program around the start of the century and began to climb back up in the rankings. While Ritter said she believes the state can do even more to attract people — especially because it's listed as the No. 5 'dream destination' state by tourists in surveys — these most recent results accentuate the power of putting some $19 million into trying to draw people to the state each year and targeting specific, higher-dollar audiences with the messaging, she said.

'There's a lot here,' Ritter said of the surveys done for the CTO by Dean Runyan Associates, Longwoods International and Strategic Marketing & Research Insights (SMARI). 'I think the main takeaway from all this research is Colorado is really building a success story around tourism.'

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