Vail Daily column: The case for increased tourism spending in Colorado
Overall visitation to Colorado reached record highs in 2013, with visitation increases of 7.3 percent and visitor spending up by 5 percent from 2012. Tourism directly supports 150,700 jobs in Colorado. Tourism is big business, and it’s not just in the mountain region.
The statistics speak for themselves. Our efforts to promote Colorado are working — and are being noticed. In fact, the Colorado Tourism Office was recently recognized as the best state tourism bureau at the 2015 Travvy Awards, as voted by travel agents from around the country. Congratulations to Al White, John Ricks and the entire Colorado Tourism Office team, as this is a well-deserved recognition.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, whose budget request to the state Legislature includes a $3 million increase to the Colorado Tourism Office, also deserves recognition for his support of tourism. The proposed budget increase positively impacts the entire state of Colorado, as tourism is an economic driver not only for the mountains but the entire state including our rural areas, the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains.
THE MORE, THE BETTER
A brief look at the numbers — and the accompanying return on investment — shows that our Legislature would benefit by increasing funding to the Colorado Tourism Office by an even larger investment than recommended by the governor.
Tourism investment is a non-partisan issue that our elected officials on either side of the aisle should be able to support. The Colorado Tourism Office’s efforts have created the highest return on investment ever for the tourism office, including:
• Over 2 million incremental trips generated, which resulted in $2.6 billion in visitor spending.
• Every dollar invested returned $344 in visitor spending. This equates to approximately a 25 to one return in state and local taxes for each marketing dollar invested.
• These return on investment figures represent the highest totals for any of Strategic Marketing Research Insights clients in 2013 — and the highest totals they’ve seen in the past number of years (Source: Strategic Marketing & Research Insights, 2013 and 2014).
TWO BASIC TENETS OF DESTINATION MARKETING
We’re fortunate in Colorado to have national parks, national monuments, ski resorts, urban centers and thriving small towns that result in a culture and brand that is attractive to visitors. It’s hard to argue that Colorado isn’t in an enviable position. Two basic tenets of destination marketing come into play when we discuss the concept of increasing our state tourism funding:
Destination marketing tenet No. 1: It’s really tough to get people to go places they don’t want to go.
• In 2014, Colorado ranks fifth in domestic destinations people want to visit — called “aspirational destinations.”
• Colorado is ranked only behind California, Florida, Hawaii and New York when people asked, “Where do you want to visit?”
• Twenty-two percent of people say they want to visit Colorado compared to 39 percent California, 38 percent Florida, 31 percent Hawaii and 28 percent New York.
This research clearly defines Colorado’s competitive set as other “aspirational destinations” — not other Western states in close geographic proximity. For comparison purposes these percentages for other Western states are as follows: Washington, 18 percent; Arizona, 18 percent; Oregon, 12 percent; New Mexico, 10 percent; Wyoming, 8 percent; Utah, 8 percent; and Idaho, 6 percent (Source: 2013 and 2014 Portrait of American Travelers).
Destination marketing tenet No. 2: You can be guaranteed of one thing; if you don’t invite people, they’re not coming
• Simply put, “inviting people” is the main purpose of a state-level destination marketing program.
• It is the role of the Colorado Tourism Office to position and maintain Colorado as a preferred vacation destination on consumer “shopping lists.”
• The overall goal is to create awareness and invite as many households as possible to visit Colorado, within the given budget.
Despite Colorado Tourism’s great success over the past three years, due to budget constraints, Colorado’s marketing campaign reaches only about 37 percent of domestic households (44 million of 119 million households).
We are clearly missing an opportunity — in 2014, Colorado has the second largest “opportunity gap” of any “aspirational destination” in the continental U.S. This means that of the 25 percent of people in 2013 who said they wanted to visit Colorado, only 9 percent actually visited. This 16-percentage-point gap is second only to California. Notably, California is currently working to increase its budget from $50 million to $100 million.
Colorado needs to close this opportunity gap to bring more money into our economy. Fortunately, a market potential model and return on investments have been provided by Strategic Marketing & Research, Inc. to help guide our efforts and determine the best and most effective ways to close this gap. The research included a number of contributing factors in each geographic area including traveling households, current visitation, potential visitation, distance to Colorado, cost of media, etc.
Strategic Marketing & Research Inc. research shows that with an additional $10.7 million for statewide tourism funding, Colorado could see an increase of more than $1.2 billion in spending generated by incremental tourism visits (817,000 visits). These projections are very conservative, but they will deliver exposure to a minimum of a 14 million households, boosting Colorado’s awareness penetration to 58 million households (nearly 50 percent of the U.S. total). Of note, the projections do not reflect the cumulative, building effects of a marketing campaign in the marketplace.
Tourism is doing well in Colorado by most every measurement and metric. Sales tax and visitation continues to grow as the Colorado Tourism Office, our local municipalities and private industry refine their marketing efforts.
But we can do better. We owe it to ourselves to do better, as tourism spending is one area where government can invest to drive more revenue to the bottom line. Increasing tourism spending to support the Colorado Tourism Office isn’t only a smart business decision, it’s good government.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.