Tourism spending in Colorado fell 36% last year from the previous year, a $9 billion reduction to $15.4 billion during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study says.
It was the lowest annual total since at least 2011, when the economy was still recovering from the Great Recession.
According to an annual study by Dean Runyan Associates, a Portland, Ore.-based tourism industry research firm, the slump cut the industry’s employment by nearly 40,000 jobs and reduced the industry’s payroll by $900 million. It reduced local, state and federal tax revenue by a similar amount.
Denver took the biggest hit from the pandemic with tourism spending falling nearly 50% to $5.95 billion, a $5.8 billion drop that erased nearly 16,000 jobs in the industry and $300 million in tax revenue. Tourism spending in Fort Collins and Grand Junction declined by 30.% and 25.7%, respectively, and every region in the state saw tourism spending fall, expect for the southwestern Colorado.
The Colorado Springs area tourism industry took a $500 million hit, according to the study. Tourist spending there last year fell 32.8% from the previous year to $1.22 billion.
The cut in spending cost the area more than 2,200 jobs, reducing tourism industry employment to its lowest level since 2014 — 14,790 jobs.
“We knew the pandemic was having a severe impact on the tourism industry and now we have a better understanding to what extent,” said Jill Corbin, interim director of the Colorado Tourism Office. “As we began to responsibly welcome travelers back to Colorado, we focused on promoting and protecting our cultural, environmental and economic assets” through the office’s “Do Colorado Right” marketing campaign.
Colorado’s tourism season got off to a strong start last year, but state restrictions on ski areas, restaurants and events were devastated by a stay-at-home order that began in late March and continued to late April. Tourism began to bounce back last summer, especially from Colorado residents visiting popular outdoor recreation spots, but not enough to offset the loss of out-of-state and international visitors.
Colorado’s hotel industry was hit the hardest by the decline in tourist spending, with revenue down 36%, or nearly $2 billion, last year to $3.3 billion. Spending on air travel revenue fell nearly two-thirds, or $1.6 billion, to $1 billion and spending at restaurants was down 24.1%, or $1.2 billion, to $4 billion. Every category of tourism spending declined last year by double-digit percentages.
There are signs the tourism industry is bouncing back with statewide occupancy recovering to 70.2% in June.
A separate study by Longwoods International, a Columbus, Ohio-based tourism research firm, found the number of overnight trips to Colorado last year fell 21% from the previous year to 30.8 million, just the second decline since 2009 and the biggest drop since at least 1994. Leisure trips were down 18% during the same period, while business trips fell by 48%. Day trips not involving an overnight stay last year were off 9.4% from the previous year to 43.4 million.
Colorado’s tourism industry was hit a bit harder than the rest of the nation. The number of overnight trips nationwide in 2020 fell 15.8% to 1.42 billion, while the number of day trips declined 13.9% to 2 billion.