International visitors to Colorado increased almost 8% in 2017 compared with 2016, and according to a study conducted for the Colorado Tourism Office, Southwest Colorado is in a good position to attract more overseas visitors.
“The benefit of international visitors is that they come all year-round,” said Andrea Blankenship, director of international tourism for the Colorado Tourism Office. Blankenship delivered a workshop on international tourism at the Southwest Tourism Summit held at the Strater Hotel on April 18.
According to statistics compiled for the state tourism office by Tourism Economics and Destination Analysts Inc., not only did international visitors jump from 939,000 tourists in 2016 to 989,000 in 2017, but the amount they spent per visit also increased.
The average amount spent by international travelers in the state in 2017 was $1,763, up from $1,662 in 2016. The average domestic traveler spends $560 on a trip to Colorado.
“When asked what they want to do when they come to Colorado, their No. 1 answer is adventure. No. 2 is to experience the Old West culture, and No. 3 is that Colorado is a welcoming place,” Blankenship said. She noted all three top reasons for an international visit are strong suits for Southwest Colorado.
In fact, a survey in which foreigners were asked to list their top reasons to visit Colorado, 23.6%, the third-most mentioned reason, specifically mentioned visiting Mesa Verde and Rocky Mountain national parks.
The fifth most-mentioned reason for visiting Colorado was because of its Old West heritage and culture, a reason cited by 21.9% in the survey. Visiting scenic and historic train rides was also mentioned by 18.1% of respondents.
Blankenship said Colorado remains a secondary visit to the United States after destinations such as New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Florida, but increasingly, international tourists are looking to go beyond traditional destinations.
“Sixty percent of international visitors are interested in lesser-known destinations, and 60 percent are looking to incorporate the outdoors into their visits,” she said. “They are done with shopping, they’re done with Las Vegas.”
Colorado has room to attract more international visitors, Blankenship said.
Even in the West, Colorado remains well behind other destinations in international visits. The state ranks behind visits to California, Nevada and Texas.
Carrie Whitley, director of sales with the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, said the train actively works with international tour contractors to attract foreign visitors, with D&SNG’s top visitors coming from the United Kingdom, Germany, France and increasingly Australia.
“If we bring them, then everyone benefits,” she said.
Barbara Bowman, executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office, said Durango has always had a fairly strong attraction for foreign tourists and the office is looking to increase the number of international visitors.
“They are high-value visitors,” she said. “They stay longer and spend more. Their average visit is 21 days, and they come in the shoulder season, which is something we’re hoping to get.”