Romer: Tourism and outdoor recreation are significant economic drivers (column)
Colorado now ranks among the top five aspirational state destinations for U.S. visitors, just after California, Florida, New York and Hawaii, according to a 2017 study by TravelZoo. It is important to continue building on our state’s competitive advantage and target high-value travelers who generate strong economic returns.
It might seem obvious in Eagle County, but tourism promotion is a revenue generator. Consider:
• Travelers to Colorado in 2016 generated more than $19.7 billion in direct spending.
• Visitors generated a record-setting $1.2 billion in state and local taxes in 2016. To replace this revenue would require an additional $218 in tax payments from each of Colorado’s 5.5 million residents.
• The hospitality industry was Colorado’s second-largest employer in 2016, with travel spending generating more than 165,000 jobs and earnings of $5.8 billion.
• With 1.7 percent of the U.S. population, Colorado has 7.7 percent of the nation’s tourism jobs. (U.S. Travel Association)
• Tourism is expected to generate more Colorado jobs (12,100 new jobs in 2017) than any other industry, including education/health services and construction. (Source: 2017 Colorado Business Economic Outlook – UC-Boulder)
But outdoor recreation is much more than tourism. In February, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released a prototype report detailing the contribution of the outdoor recreation industry to the overall United States Gross Domestic Product. This report has been nearly two years in the making since the passage of the Outdoor REC (Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact) Act in 2016.
What does this mean for mountain communities?
The 2016 passage of the Outdoor REC Act was a huge step in the right direction for getting the contribution of the outdoor recreation industry officially recognized. Government recognition of the breadth of this industry could hold more credence for decision makers than the industry affiliated Outdoor Industry Association reports.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis found that the outdoor recreation industry accounted for 2 percent of the GDP in 2016 and is growing faster than the overall United States economy at a rate of 3.8 compared to 2.8 percent. Of note, the Bureau of Economic Analysis did not account for revenue generated from apparel or equipment manufactured overseas, nor did it account for travel expenses for trips less than 50 miles from home.
Even so, this figure is comparable to other industries including construction (4.3 percent); legal services (1.3 percent); agriculture, including farming, forestry, and fishing (1 percent); and mining, oil, and gas extraction (1.4 percent).
Together, tourism and outdoor recreation creates economic development in mountain communities. Recent research conducted by Longwoods International illustrates a strong connection between a dynamic tourism campaign and a “halo effect,” significantly improving our image for several economic development objectives.
Longwoods found that Colorado’s tourism advertising, especially when combined with a subsequent visit, significantly raised the overall image of Colorado in the following categories: A good place to start a business, a good place to start a career, and a good place to retire.
According to Andy Levine of Forbes, “… while tourism marketing has been shown to generate significant economic impact by driving visitation, these research results demonstrate the potential long-term benefits for broader economic development.”
Our tourism industry is often underappreciated, but the facts show that our tourism promotion efforts have other benefits that elevate our community and support our businesses in an unintended yet positive manner. How we leverage tourism and outdoor recreation to create a bigger benefit should remain a focus moving forward.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.