'Preferred' visitors boost state tourism

Officials give credit to marketing for leap in U.S. ranking

Colorado attracted a record number of visitors in 2005, reaping almost $1 billion in additional spending as it grabbed a bigger share of the most lucrative segment of the vacation travel market.

A 6 percent jump in "marketable leisure visitors" - those lured by travel advertising and not by invitations to visit friends and family - boosted the state to 18th place nationally, according to a Colorado Tourism Office study released Wednesday.

"These are people that would not have been here without the marketing," said Colorado Tourism Board Chairman Pete Meersman, who pushed for the recently approved $19 million boost in the state's tourism promotion budget.

The state drew a total of 25.9 million overnight visitors, slightly more than last year but not enough to maintain its share of the overall domestic travel market.

The statewide record follows news last month that Denver attracted a record 10.4 million overnight visitors last year as business trips to the metro area surged by a whopping 25 percent.

A drop in business travel and a decline in visits to friends and relatives nudged it down to 22nd place from 21st among U.S. states, according to the tourism office. Visits to friends and relatives fell 4 percent to 10.8 million.

But the state jumped five notches from 23rd place in the rankings for the so-called marketable leisure trips. Colorado drew 11.7 million of those visitors, up from 11.1 million in 2004.

"They are the preferred customer - they spend more per person, per day," said Eugene Dilbeck, director of the University of Denver's Center for Travel & Tourism.

Nationally, that segment grew much slower than it did in Colorado.

Longwoods International, the Toronto-based research firm that conducted the study, noted Colorado tourism didn't suffer as a result of high gasoline prices, weather and other factors that hurt the national market.

"The substantial increase in marketable trips also resulted in increased spending in the state by visitors," said Michael Erdman, a senior vice president at Longwoods.

Visitors spent a total of $8.2 billion, an increase of $900 million from a year ago.

Other findings:

• The average trip length for Colorado vacations averages 5.7 nights, down from 6.8 nights in 2000. Nationally, vacations have grown even shorter, declining to 4.9 nights from 5.6 nights.

• Two-thirds of Colorado tourists travel 500 or more miles to get to the state, twice the national norm.

• Total incremental spending by Colorado visitors that can be linked to the state's marketing efforts was $274 on average per trip, or $1.4 billion total.

• Most visitors come from California, Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas and Utah.

Most popular Denver attractions in 2005

• Shopping areas and malls, including the 16th Street Mall, Castle Rock factory outlets, Cherry Creek Shopping Center, Colorado Mills, FlatIron Crossing and Park Meadows mall

• Sightseeing at the LoDo historic district, Denver Zoo, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado Capitol, Coors Brewery and the U.S. Mint

• Sports events, especially Colorado Rockies games

Most popular attractions around Colorado

• Northwest mountain towns, including Vail/Beaver Creek, Grand Junction, Breckenridge, Glenwood Springs and Aspen/Snowmass

• North central draws included Boulder, Estes Park and nearby Rocky Mountain National Park, Fort Collins, and gambling in Central City and Black Hawk.

• In the northeast, tourists went to Sterling, Fort Morgan, Julesburg and Burlington.

• Southwest region visitors stopped in Durango, Cortez, Telluride, Gunnison, as well as Mesa Verde and Black Canyon of the Gunnison national parks.

• South central attractions included Colorado Springs and nearby natural sites: Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods and Royal Gorge. Manitou Springs, Cripple Creek, Buena Vista and Salida were also draws.

• In the southeast, Pueblo and Trinidad ranked highest.

Source: Colorado Tourism Office, Longwoods International

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