Communities throughout Colorado and around the country are increasingly focused on tourism development as a pillar of their economic development efforts. We are fortunate here in the Vail Valley and throughout the Rocky Mountains that this sector of the economy is our unquestioned strength.
That is not to say we don’t need to increasingly focus on other areas of our economy and future opportunities for economic growth. In fact we will be, in the next few weeks, going into great detail on specific areas of our economic development focus. Key to any effort is to build on existing strengths while still focused on broadening our economic footprint.
Related to tourism, the following are some highlights from the Colorado Travel Year Report 2012 as reported by Longwoods International:
In terms of visitation, Colorado welcomed more than 60 million visitors for the first time in the state’s history. The number of visitors coming to Colorado on marketable leisure trips totaled an all-time high of 14.6 million, a 2 percent increase from 2011. Marketable leisure trips are those trips influenced by marketing and exclude visiting friends and relatives.
Overnight trips reached a record 29.5 million trips, an increase of 2 percent over 2011. Colorado maintained its lead among states in the competitive overnight ski travel market, garnering about 20 percent of all overnight ski trips in 2012. Business trips increased 2 percent, continuing the rebound in this sector that began in 2009.
On a more micro level, here are some highlights from the Colorado Travel Impacts 2012 report conducted by Dean Runyon & Associates:
Total direct travel spending in Colorado in 2012 reached $16.7 billion, with 60 percent of that spending coming from the commercial lodging sector (hotels, motels, rented condos, bed and breakfasts), followed by 21 percent from food and beverage services and 19 percent from lodging expenses (including campgrounds).
This spending figure represented an increase of 5.7 percent above 2011 numbers. Since 1996, visitor-generated spending in Colorado has increased at an average annual rate of 4.0 percent, earnings by 2.7 percent and local and state tax revenues by 4.9 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively.
Underscoring the importance of tourism to Colorado, the local tourism industry generated $918 million in local and state tax revenues in the 2012 calendar year. This represented approximately $189 of tax revenue per person in the state or $757 for a family of four. Without tourism, each resident would pay $189 more in taxes.
Visitor spending also benefitted Colorado’s local economy by spurring job creation. The tourism industry directly supported 144,600 jobs with earnings of more than $4.3 billion in 2012.
These state facts are important and show the importance of tourism to Colorado. On a local level, Eagle County also saw significant growth in the tourism sector in 2012. Spending increased 9.5 percent to $869.1 million, earnings increased 5.9 percent to $207 million and employment increased 4.6 percent to more than 6,800 jobs. Maybe most importantly (and certainly a great benefit to our municipalities), local tax collections increased 10.8 percent to $33 million.
Clearly, we are doing something right. We’re fortunate to be home to two of the best ski mountains in the world, and home to municipalities and stakeholders that “get it” and continue to invest in special events, infrastructure and programming that continue to focus on the guest experience and tourism development.
Building on our strength and continuing to improve our tourism projects and infrastructure is the obvious low-hanging fruit but can’t be our only strategy moving forward. We need to continue to identify other areas of opportunity to grow our economy and create less dependency on one industry.
In the next few weeks, via various public meetings and in this column, we will be rolling out the updated Eagle County economic development plan that is the result of the Partnership’s economic development leadership council. These groups of civically engaged individuals have spent many hours and untold number of meetings to help identify opportunities for future economic growth.
As our tourism economy shows increasing signs of improvement at a state and local level, the opportunity exists to leverage this strength and use it to simultaneously grow other areas by strengthening and diversify our overall economy.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.