Record visitation and visitor spending for Colorado and Denver in 2011

Colorado and Denver hosted a record number of vacationers in 2011.

The annual survey by Longwoods International shows the state logged a record 57.9 million overnight visitors last year. But the one percent annual increase in visitation was eclipsed by a six percent increase in visitor spending, reaching a record $10.76 billion.

Most importantly for Al White, head of the Colorado Tourism Office, is that the state grabbed 2.7 percent of the nation's overnight travelers. That marks a return to the 1991 market share the state commanded before tourism funding was cut in 1992.

'After 18 years we have finally regained what we lost,' White said. 'The lesson here is that when you stop spending money you lose market share and it's easy to lose but hard to regain. Well now it's back. It's a happy day for tourism in Colorado.'

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

The record confirms 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.

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

'You not only attracted more people, but you convinced them to spend more,' said Michael Erdman, vice president with Longwoods International, which has surveyed Colorado travelers since 1990.

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