U.S., Colorado tourism hit hard by recession | VailDaily.com

U.S., Colorado tourism hit hard by recession

Bob Berwyn
Summit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY – Local resorts and towns aren’t alone in feeling the pinch when it comes to tourism.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently announced that the number of overseas visitors to the U.S. dropped about 10 percent in the first half of 2009 compared to the same span last year.

Internationally, the number of visitors to the world’s top 50 tourist destinations was down about 8 percent for the first half of 2009, according to the World Tourism Organization. The organization expects world-wide tourism to decline by about 2 to 3 percent during 2009. Along with the recession, the spread of the H1N1 influenza virus has also affected the tourism market, the group said in a recent report.

A few regions seem to have avoided the worst impacts. Africa, Central America and South America all saw tourism grow 3 to 5 percent. Asia, Europe and the Middle East have been hardest hit, according to the international agency.

Fewer visitors to the U.S. also spent less money. Spending in the U.S. dropped 15 percent, to $60 million during the first half of 2009, and the numbers continued to dwindle in June.

An early 2009 report from the Colorado Tourism Office and the University of Denver showed a similar statewide decline. Lodging sales in Colorado dropped from near $900 million in the third quarter of 2008 down to below $600 million in the fourth quarter.

In the first quarter (Jan.-March) of 2009 – the heart of the ski season – lodging sales in Colorado dropped 15.8 percent from the previous year. Occupancy rates during the quarter declined by 12.4 percent, while the average room rate dropped 7.4 percent.

Tracking these numbers may be a bit harder in the future. The Colorado Tourism Office saw its budget slashed by 25 percent this year, from $20 million down to about $16 million. One of the cost-cutting measures will do away with the detailed quarterly reports, compiled jointly by the state office and the University of Denver.

Tourism office director Kim McNulty said state tourism has varied from destination to destination.

“In general, we’re still seeing that people are traveling … but they’re spending less,” she said. Downward pressure on lodging rates has resulted in some good deals for travelers, and the state’s marketing arm is trying to promote those deals with a special Web site.

“We’ve slightly shifted our marketing dollars,” McNulty continued. “We’re being very targeted. We’re not doing any in-state marketing. We’re trying to drive out-of-state visitation.” She added that the recent focus has been on markets in the Midwest, California and Texas.

McNulty said Colorado will get a boost from a special eight-minute segment in the upcoming Warren Miller ski flick. As one of the film’s sponsors, Colorado will be highlighted, not just for skiing but for all of its mountain-related outdoor activities, she said.

U.S. Tourism could get some help from a bill recently passed by the U.S. Senate. The Tourism Promotion Act is designed to promote U.S. tourism and help explain U.S. security and entry policies. The bill will establish a nonprofit corporation funded through a matching program featuring up to $100 million in private sector contributions and a $10 entry fee.

Supporters of the bill estimate that the program will generate $4 billion in new consumer spending and reduce the federal deficit by $425 million without any cost to taxpayers. The European Union has criticized the proposed fee, but few people think it will deter visits.

Other countries use similar fees to fund marketing campaigns. The bill, co-sponsored by Colorado U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, is headed to the U.S. House, where it is expected to pass easily.

Support Local Journalism