State tourism sector sees strong numbers
The recent National Travel and Tourism Week — America’s annual salute to travel and tourism — was established by a congressional resolution in 1983. This week of events served to champion the power of the tourism industry.
Tourism is one of Colorado’s most important industries. In 2014 Colorado set all-time records, welcoming 71.3 million visitors to the state who spent $18.6 billion and generated $1.1 billion in tax revenue. The 2015 travel year research will be released next month and all indications are that Colorado will see new tourism records set.
The Vail Valley is primed to benefit from this. The latest lodging occupancy reports were recently published by Destimetrics, and to no one’s surprise show little-to-no growth in winter lodging occupancies. Lodging rates did increase for the winter season, and the yet-to-be-published lodging sales tax collections should be slightly up over last year. An early Easter holiday compressed key spring break and international visitation, and Vail Mountain’s extended season should have some benefits to driving last-minute traffic to the lodging community and resulting retail and restaurant activities.
Looking ahead, reservations for the spring and summer (data available through September) are very strong with pacing increases ranging from 13 percent to 23 percent throughout the valley, with an average increase of 17 percent. Business looks strong throughout the summer season, with every month pacing ahead of last year and mid-week business pacing up for the most part.
Group business is strong (both on-the-books group programs, as well as lead generation and future business pipeline), and Epic Discovery’s launch this summer on Vail Mountain should have positive impacts as well. Enplanements to the Eagle County Regional Airport continue a downward trend, but summer service from Houston, Dallas and Denver continues this season and new service from Los Angeles starts in June. On a national level, consumer confidence is slightly up and the index of leading economic indicators is trending slightly positive.
The “State of the American Traveler,” published by Destination Analytics, also showed that mountain destinations or resorts — while somewhat less frequented than beach vacations, theme parks or urban destinations — attract a significant share of travelers. About 30 percent of leisure travelers expect to visit a mountain destination this year.
Additionally, the report showed that prices at the gas pump are a non-issue for the summer drive market. Most leisure travel continues to be by car, and the price of gasoline had traditionally been a key factor in trip decision making. Things have changed radically, driven by recent downward trends in gas prices. Fewer and fewer American travelers are now saying that high gasoline prices are causing them to reduce their travel. From a high of 53.6 percent in 2011, the proportion of American travelers cutting back on their travel due to gas prices fell to 16.9 percent.
Some additional points of interest from the “State of the American Traveler”:
The vast majority of Americans are leisure travelers who have taken at least one trip (50 or more miles from home) in the past year. On average, Americans took 4.4 trips; with about one-third taking five or more. Cities and metropolitan areas are by far the most visited destination type, with nearly three out of four of us planning to visit one this year.
The second most frequented destination type will be “small towns, villages or rural destinations and attractions,” with the average traveler visiting 1.1 such places this year. Beach destination and resorts will generate fewer visits, but still more than half of Americans will include them in this year’s itineraries.
More fun facts
• 45 percent of American leisure travelers took only overnight trips this year.
• Staycations are popular. These vacations spent at home (rather than traveling) seem to be here to stay.
• 36 percent of the average 4.4 total trips taken were 200 or fewer miles from home.
• About one-third of Americans say they will enjoy one of our national parks this year.
• The average traveler said they could budget as much as $3,445 for leisure travel this year, up 7 percent from one year ago.
• Almost one-quarter of adults traveled with three or more generations in a travel party.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of Vail Valley Partnership.