Colorado’s Tourism Economy Saw Growth in 2021 According to Annual Research Reports

Colorado’s tourism industry has seen growth in the past year as the state bounces back stronger than before the pandemic according to new reports. The Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) announced today that the state’s tourism industry is starting to bounce back with travel spending increasing 41.8 percent from $15.4 billion in 2020 to $21.9 billion in 2021.  

According to the report, direct travel-generated employment experienced a gain of approximately 14,800 jobs, with a total of 161,000, a 10 percent increase in employment compared to 2020, but still down from the 184,100 jobs in 2019. In 2021, every $1 million in travel-related spending resulted in 8 jobs for the industry. The U.S. travel industry expanded 48 percent ($268 billion) in 2021.

2021 showed overall visitation to Colorado increased, reaching 84.2 million trips with day trips accounting for 57 percent and overnight trips accounting for 43 percent. This is up 13.6 percent from 2020. Although leisure travel made a positive comeback, areas such as business, group, convention and international travel have yet to see significant growth. Out of the eight Colorado travel regions, half are up in direct travel spending from 2019 to 2021 while the other four are down and still in need of recovery resources and assistance. For example, the Denver & Cities of the Rockies region remains down over 19 percent in direct travel spending while the Rockies Playground region is up around 9 percent from 2019 to 2021.

The overseas visitor is Colorado's highest value traveler, spending over $2,200 per person per trip while in the state, more than five times more than a domestic traveler. U.S. borders opened to international visitors on November 8, 2021, and COVID-19  travel testing requirements were dropped in June 2022, assisting with international travel recovery. Tourism Economics expects that in 2022 Colorado will recover 70 percent of the 2019 international travel spend, with full recovery by 2024.

During such a pivotal time in the recovery process, CTO marketing dollars are working harder than ever, supporting both a consumer awareness campaign, “Shine A Little Brighter,” as well as a destination stewardship and visitor education campaign, “Do Colorado Right.” According to a survey conducted by Strategic Marketing and Research Insights (SMARI) that measures advertising effectiveness, the first season of the new "Shine A Little Brighter" winter campaign influenced over 900,000 trips and delivered $1.93 billion in incremental spending. This contributed to a record-breaking ROI of $890 for every dollar spent. This was 13 percent higher than the pre-pandemic campaign and effectively placed Colorado within the top 10 percent of ROIs in the country.

“We are encouraged by the overall 2021 tourism research results, especially in light of the continued impacts of COVID-19 and its variants that resulted in a slower recovery of convention, group and business travelers in the early part of the year. Additionally, international travel was down nearly 80 percent for a second year impacting some of Colorado’s highest value travelers,” said Tim Wolfe, director of the Colorado Tourism Office. “We will continue to work to attract high-value travelers aligned with Colorado values and find the harmony between quality of life for residents while protecting our cultural and natural resources as we monitor the new headwinds of inflation.”

Helping Those Still in Recovery:
Acknowledging that there is more to be done, the CTO continues to provide a variety of grant and program offerings that support destinations still in recovery.

  • The Reimagine Destinations Program is a part of a series of recovery programs funded by a CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant to advance collaborative projects that foster the long-term resilience of the statewide industry.
  • The Meeting & Events Incentive Cash Rebate Program provides a 10 percent cash rebate against eligible costs for hosting meetings and events in Colorado through June 2024 and aims to incentivize meeting planners to book events and groups in Colorado rather than a competitor state.
  • The new Tourism Recovery Marketing Grant will distribute $1.85 million in matching grants to help support the travel and tourism industry in regions still recovering through the execution of tourism marketing and promotional campaigns.
  • Tourism Marketing Matching Grant and Tourism Management Grant are existing programs offered annually.

Other notable impacts from the Longwoods International and Dean Runyan Associates studies include:

  • Total tourism spend in 2021 finished at $21.9 billion in 2021, bouncing back from $15.4 billion in 2020 but still down from the record-setting year of 2019 where the state saw $24.2 billion in traveler spending.
  • Travel-generated state and local tax revenue reached approximately $670 per Colorado household in 2021. This is up from $478 in 2020 but down 5.2 percent from $707 per Colorado household in 2019.
  • In 2021, the average spend on domestic overnight trips was an estimated $469 per person, up from $426 per person in 2020. With leisure travel averaging $451 per person and business travel averaging at $631 per person.
  • In 2021, direct travel-generated earnings grew to $7.4 billion, a 12.3 percent increase from the prior year, but down 1.9 percent from 2019.
  • Domestic overnight trips increased to an estimated 36.3 million, up nearly 18 percent from 2020, but still not reaching 2019 numbers of 39 million.
  • 81 percent of overnight travelers were repeat visitors in 2021.
  • State and local tax receipts generated by travel spending are up 40 percent compared to 2020. State and local taxes both experienced a strong recovery in 2021, growing 30.4 percent and 47.4 percent respectively. However, still down 3.4 percent in state taxes and 4.3 percent in local taxes from 2019.
  • The top states of origin for overnight trips to Colorado in 2021, apart from Colorado itself, were California, Texas, Florida and New York.

To view the full reports for Colorado Travel Impacts 2021 (Dean Runyan Associates) and Colorado Travel Year Report 2021 (Longwoods International), visit the Colorado Tourism Office Research page.

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