Colorado sees record 57.9 million visitors spend $10.76 billion in '11

Colorado claimed 2.7 percent of the U.S. travel market in 2011 for the first time since state funding evaporated during the 1990s.The state's market share continued its slow upward climb last year, rising 0.1 percentage point and hitting the level last seen in 1992, before the state legislature ended a tourism sales tax for marketing. The number slid during the 1990s and began its rebound after state funding was reinstated in 2000.
"Moving from 2.6 to 2.7 doesn't seem like a lot, but it's about $450 million in private sector spending and $40 million in state and local taxes," said Al White, head of the Colorado Tourism Office. "If I can move that to 3 or 3.1, we are talking an extra billion or billion and a half dollars in spending. It's a happy day for tourism in Colorado."

Colorado hosted a record 57.9 million travelers in 2011, according to the annual survey by Longwoods International, which has surveyed Colorado travelers since 1990.

The 29 million overnight visitors — who spend far more than day trippers — was up less than 1 percent from 2010. But those overnighters spent $600 million more than they did in 2010, fueling a record $10.76 billion in total visitor spending for 2011. On an inflation-adjusted basis, visitor spending is about on par with where it was in 1992, officials said.

State tourism funding for marketing now comes through the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade via a portion of gaming revenues. The Colorado Tourism Office's budget this year is $13.3 million.

The city of Denver also enjoyed its best-ever year for tourism in 2011, with 13.2 million overnight visitors, a 4 percent increase over 2010.

The record affirms the city's mission to transform itself from "not just a gateway to the Rockies but a destination in its own right," said Bruce James, chairman of Visit Denver.

Those Denver visitors spent more, leaving a record $3.3 billion in the city, a 10 percent increase over 2010. Leading the list of increases for Denver were business travelers, who accounted for a 17 percent annual increase in visits and a 15 percent increase in spending, while marketable visitors — those who could travel anywhere but choose Denver — increased 4 percent. The city's lodger's tax in 2011 spiked at $55.6 million, another record.

Skiers accounted for just 5 percent of the state's overnight visitors but accounted for 14 percent of the state's overnight visitor spending. Colorado commanded 18 percent of the country's skier visits, making it the top ski destination in the United States.

"You not only attracted more people, but you convinced them to spend more," said Michael Erdman, vice president with Longwoods International.

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