Colorado’s tourism industry bounced back in a big way in 2021, but it is at least another year away from a full recovery, according to the Colorado Tourism Office.
The state recorded 84.2 million tourism trips last year, generating $21.9 billion in spending from visitors, according to figures released Thursday by the Tourism Office, part of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
While those numbers were up from 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic all but shut down the travel industry, they didn’t reach the record levels set in 2019, when the state recorded 86.9 million trips and $24.2 billion in tourism spending.
That’s due to two main factors: International travel had yet to rebound in 2021 with many travel restrictions not being lifted until November, and business travel and the conference industry have been slow to recover from the pandemic.
“We are encouraged by the overall 2021 tourism research results, especially in light of the continued impacts of COVID-19 and its variants that resulted in a slower recovery of convention, group and business travelers in the early part of the year,” tourism Director Tim Wolfe said in a news release. “Additionally, international travel was down nearly 80% for a second year impacting some of Colorado’s highest value travelers.”
Tourism officials said visitors from overseas are “Colorado’s highest value traveler, spending over $2,200 per person per trip.” That’s five times higher than a domestic traveler.
The 84.2 million trips last year eclipsed 2020’s visits by 13.6%. Research shows 57% of those trips were day trips, with overnight trips accounting for the rest.
Spending in 2021 increased 41.8% from 2020’s level of $15.4 billion.
Of the state’s eight most popular travel regions, half saw increases in direct travel spending from 2019 to 2021, according to the report, while the other four were down and “still in need of recovery resources and assistance.”
“For example, the Denver & Cities of the Rockies region remains down over 19% in direct travel spending while the Rockies Playground region is up around 9% from 2019 to 2021,” the report states.
A recent Longwoods International Travel USA 2021 survey showed Denver’s tourism industry rebounded from 2020 in a big way in 2021, drawing 31.7 million visitors who spent an estimated $6.6 billion.
Those 31.7 million visitors included 16.6 million overnight visitors and 15.1 million day visitors — a 14.5% increase from 2020. The spending level of those tourists just missed the record of $7 billion spent by tourists in 2019 and was up 26.2% from 2020, the Longwoods report showed.
The Colorado Tourism Office report included good job-creation news: Direct travel-generated employment “experienced a gain of approximately 14,800 jobs, with a total of 161,000, a 10 percent increase in employment compared to 2020, but still down from the 184,100 jobs in 2019.”
Tourism officials expect that this year, Colorado will recover 70% of its 2019 international travel spending, with full recovery by 2024.
Said Wolfe: “We will continue to work to attract high-value travelers aligned with Colorado values and find the harmony between quality of life for residents while protecting our cultural and natural resources as we monitor the new headwinds of inflation.”