Colorado’s workhorse “Come To Life” tourism advertising campaign lured fewer travelers in the spring and summer of 2016, but those visitors spent more.
Spending among out-of-state travelers who viewed the ads increased 4 percent, even though the number of Colorado-bound tourists fell 9.5 percent, according the Colorado Tourism Office’s latest research.
Researchers blamed waning interest among marijuana tourists — visitors who traveled to Colorado largely for the legal weed — for the drop in advertising-influenced visitors.
“2016 represented a return to the more usual Colorado traveler,” Colorado Tourism Office director Cathy Ritter said, noting that the latest research shows the novelty of being able to purchase and consume marijuana has leveled off and Colorado is attracting a slightly older, more affluent traveler who leaves more cash in their wake.
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According to Indianapolis-based Strategic Marketing and Research Insight, influenced spending — tourism speak for money spent by tourists who viewed ads in markets where promoters cast their nets — reached $2.72 billion in the spring and summer of 2016, up about $120 million compared with the previous record-setting year. But the number of visitors saying they came to Colorado after seeing the “Come To Life” ads fell to 1.9 million last year from a high of 2.1 million in the spring and summer of 2015. In 2014, the ad campaign generated 1.7 million trips to Colorado, stirring a $2.6 billion impact.
That works well for Ritter, who, after several listening session tours across the state last year, is sculpting a new tourism mission that focuses on luring “high-value” tourists to Colorado, and pushing the right travelers to the right places. The latest research, shows the effort is “going in the right direction,” Ritter said.
“It’s always good news for Colorado when there’s a great economic benefit from a lesser impact,” she said. “One thing we heard loud and clear in our listening sessions is an interest in sustainable tourism. We want to be taking approaches that would reduce the impact on our environment and even making travelers part of the solution in creating a better environment for Colorado.”
The cascading waterfalls and happy families plucking wildflowers around lonely lakes featured in the state’s soon-to-be 6-year-old “Come To Life” campaign — cultivated by Denver’s Karsh Hagan agency — continues to rank as one of the most effective tourism efforts in the country, according to Denise Miller, the SMARI executive who planned to present the latest research to the Colorado Tourism Office board on Wednesday.
Miller’s research shows the 2016 drop-off in ad-influenced visitors stemmed from a decline in the number of tourists who said legal marijuana was a motivator for their visit to Colorado.
In 2015, 7 percent of travelers surveyed by SMARI said visiting a dispensary was a top reason for their visit to Colorado. In 2016, that number dropped to 4 percent. Top motivators for a Colorado holiday in 2016, according to SMARI, included scenic drives, hiking, backpacking and visiting a state park, national park or historic site.
That 24 percent, record-setting spike in advertising-drawn travelers in 2015 — surging to 2.1 million from 1.7 million the year before — “may have been a one-year anomaly, driven by demand among younger, lower-spending travelers curious about legal marijuana,” according to a release by the Colorado Tourism Office announcing the new research.
The typical Colorado traveler profile, according to SMARI, returned to its more traditional roots in 2016: an average age of 45, well educated and with a higher income, spending on average $1,401 on their Colorado vacation in 2016, up from $1,250 in 2015.
Ritter said the latest surveys of Colorado travelers show the value of conducting in-depth research every year over a period of several years.
“Colorado has been charting new ground with this change in the law,” she said. “We really have have been able to measure and see the change in behavior over the last few years and this could be instructive to other states. It certainly makes sense for Colorado to lead the way here.”
In 2015, the state lured 77.7 million visitors who spent $19.1 billion, marking a fifth record year in a row for an industry that generated $1.13 billion in state and local taxes. The Colorado Tourism Office will release the full results of the 2016 tourism years — including more SMARI research and the results of the annual survey by tourism-measuring firm Longwoods International — in June.