Reuteman: They came, they saw and they spent in '05

Colorado's tourism industry, long plagued by a lack of public funds for marketing, appears headed toward a very sweet spot. Tourism revenues, for Denver and the state as a whole, are showing significant increases, even as millions of tax dollars become available to market the state nationally.
A report from the Colorado Tourism Office last week showed a record number of tourists came and spent last year. Nearly 26 million overnight visitors spent $8.2 billion - a $900 million increase over the year before. In June, the Denver Convention and Visitors Bureau reported Denver attracted a record 10.4 million overnight visitors, led by a 25 percent increase in business travel. Those jumps came about despite a comparatively paltry $5.5 million state appropriation for tourism marketing and a larger $8 million marketing budget of the Denver visitors bureau. However you may feel about using tax money to fund tourism marketing, most of the top states for tourism spend much more.

But last November, Denver voters approved an increase in the lodging tax that adds $4 million to the visitors bureau budget. And this past May, the state legislature took $19 million annually from gaming revenues to beef up the tourism budget. That $19 million should put us just behind Florida, whose budget recently stood at $21 million. That's quite a jump from last year's budget of $5.5 million, which ranked us 35th among states.

But be careful what you wish for, as they say. There wouldn't seem to be any excuse for not seeing a huge increase in tourism revenues next year, approximate to the new influx of marketing money. State officials have bellyached for good reason since voters repealed the tourism tax in 1992, but further complaint would seem unfounded.

Last week's tourism report was based on an exhaustive study titled "Colorado Travel Year 2005," done by Toronto- based Longwoods International. Some interesting odds and ends from the report:

The things visitors to Colorado complained about most were the cost of getting here, the cost of food and accommodations, concern about the uniqueness of local cuisine, and - drum roll, please - concern about the absence of places to swim.

A Colorado vacation averaged 5.7 nights last year, compared with 6.8 nights in 2000. Nationally, too, the average vacation has slipped from 5.6 to 4.9 nights.

Colorado not only maintained its first-place ranking as a ski destination but gained market share, claiming 18.5 percent of overnight ski trips nationwide in 2005.

And skiers spend the most of any Colorado vacationers, by a long shot. They spent an average of $153 a day last year. And while they only represent 6 percent of all vacationers, they represent 14 percent of all expenditures.

Three-quarters of those skiing vacationers traveled more than 500 miles to get here, and 67 percent of them came by air. In fact, two-thirds of all Colorado tourists last year traveled 500 miles or more to get here - double the national norm for vacation travel.

Vacationing skiers usually travel in parties of four, spend an average of five days at a resort, and are the most upscale of Colorado vacationers in terms of income, education and employment.

The top source of travel info for Colorado vacationers is the Internet. Nearly four of 10 visitors used Web sites to plan their trips last year; the national norm is three of 10. Only 4 percent of vacationers consulted a travel agent, well below the national average.

Last year, visitors to Colorado who stayed in hotels or motels accounted for 66 percent of all travel spending in the state, reversing a downward trend and returning to 2000 levels. About 25 percent of travel spending was by those who stayed in private homes or vacation properties. People staying in private or public campgrounds accounted for the other 9 percent of travel spending.

Southwestern states continue to be the primary source of Colorado tourists, accounting for 65 percent of all overnight leisure trips in 2005. That figure has been pretty consistent in recent years, but last year 30 percent of overnight leisure trips were taken by Coloradans themselves, up substantially from 24 percent in 2004.

The top cities of origin for Colorado vacationers last year were, of course, led by Denver and followed by Colorado Springs/Pueblo. Then came, respectively, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque/Santa Fe, Dallas/Forth Worth, Minneapolis/St. Paul and New York City.

The top states providing tourists here, respectively, are California, Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas and Utah.

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