About the author
Tim Wolfe serves as Director of the Colorado Tourism Office working to build and support tourism economies while protecting what makes Colorado special. Tim’s background includes managing 4-diamond hotels and resorts throughout Colorado, including the iconic Brown Palace Hotel & Spa in Denver. Tim currently serves on the US Travel Association Board of Directors, Western States Tourism Policy Council, Geographic Naming Advisory Board & Community Board member for Visit Denver.
The benefits of tourism in Colorado are clear.
Prior to the pandemic, Colorado travelers spent as much as $24.2 billion in visitor spending and generated $1.49 billion in local and state revenues in 2019, which translated into a direct tax savings of $707 for each Colorado household. Tourism is also one of Colorado's largest employers with travel spending directly impacting 187,200 jobs in 2019.
We all know that the COVID-19 pandemic delivered a massive blow to our industry. In 2020, direct visitor spending plummeted to $15.4 billion, down 36.3% from 2019, and more than 38,200 jobs were lost. The way that tourism destinations and businesses adapted to safely welcome guests to Colorado was inspiring and a testament to the resilience of Coloradans. Still, we know the work to fully recover isn’t done yet.
Denver is forecast in 2022 to finish 31% below 2019 levels with meetings, conventions and business travel still down significantly. International travel, our highest value travelers by on average spending up to five times more per person than domestic tourists, was down over 83% compared to 2019 from $1.8 billion to $365,000 in 2020. At the same time, some of our destination communities are experiencing – and actively working to manage – high volumes of tourism in order to protect their communities and the natural resources that draw so many visitors.
Responsible tourism marketing must take this broad spectrum of need into account, and that’s what the Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) is doing. As a state tourism organization, the longtime goals of our office have been to inspire travel to and within our state, enhance the visitor experience, protect destination assets, educate visitors on how to visit responsibly and to improve residential quality of life. Our team and destinations across Colorado are working tirelessly to reimagine plans and programs and to secure grants and funding that support those goals.
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At the state level, it is important that we continue to deliver a strong recovery for urban centers while understanding Colorado's local values to effectively serve the diverse needs of our world-class resort destinations and rural communities alike. There are signs of improvement in this area, as Colorado will see international travel begin to return in 2022 with the reinstatement of most long-haul flights and several routes and increasing our flight capacity 23% over 2019. The CTO's goal is to recover to 70% of 2019 international visitation and spend throughout the year.
Destinations that serve as gateways to our natural resources have also been facing more challenges in recent years due to an increase in visitor pressure on the environment and resident quality of life.
Many destinations from across the state are working to mitigate any negative impacts of tourism while still enhancing and building a strong tourism economy. Because of these changing landscapes across the tourism industry and a growing need for support for our industry, the CTO is strengthening its destination stewardship work in order to elevate responsible travel and sustainability, champion resilient destinations and advance inclusiveness and collaboration. Our marketing dollars are working harder than ever, supporting both our awareness campaign, “Shine A Little Brighter,” as well as our destination stewardship campaign, “Do Colorado Right.” The “Do Colorado Right” campaign educates visitors on a variety of stewardship topics from fire prevention to backcountry safety.
We have also introduced a variety of grants and programs that support our destinations in recovery. The Reimagine Destinations Program is a part of a series of recovery programs to advance collaborative projects that foster the long-term resilience of the statewide industry. The Meeting & Events Incentive Cash Rebate Program provides a 10% cash rebate against eligible costs for hosting meetings and events in Colorado through June 2024 and aims to incentivize meeting planners to book in Colorado rather than a competitor state. The new Tourism Recovery Marketing Grant will distribute $1.85 million in matching grants to help support the economic recovery of the travel and tourism industry, specifically through the execution of tourism marketing and promotional campaigns. In addition to these new programs, our existing Tourism Marketing Matching Grant and Tourism Development Grant are offered annually.
As I look toward the one year anniversary of my tenure as Director of the Colorado Tourism Office, I could not be prouder of the direction this industry is moving and the innovative and impactful work that the entire CTO team is championing.