Denver’s tourism industry rebounded in a big way in 2021, drawing 31.7 million visitors who spent an estimated $6.6 billion, according to the Longwoods International Travel USA 2021 survey report.

Visit Denver presented the report at a news conference Wednesday.

“The travel industry was disproportionately harmed by the pandemic. ... Thankfully, Denver is a very resilient economy,” said Richard Scharf, president and CEO of the nonprofit trade association that contracts with Denver to market the city as a convention and leisure destination. “We certainly have benefited from being an outdoor city and an outdoor state. … That’s something that’s been very key for us.”

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.

“Overnight trips were the big winner last year,” said Amir Eylon, president and CEO of Longwoods International. “Overnight, leisure trips showing a 27% year-over-year increase is really tremendous.

“Denver’s definitely in a tourism rebound. But we're not out of the woods yet as an industry. There’s still some waiting and a long way to go.”

Especially for business and convention travelers, which has been the slowest sector to return.

Of the 16.6 million trips documented by the study in 2021, only 1.8 million came from business travelers. While total trips were up 24% from 2020, they fell short of the record 17.7 million trips tourists made to Denver is 2019.

“Business travel is still very, very soft,” Eylon said. “It’s starting to pick up a little bit, but we’re not there yet.”

“We know that (getting back) the business traveler and the convention business is going to be a slow ramp up,” Scharf said.

The biggest tourist attraction was Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre, followed by the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Zoo, the Colorado Rockies and Water World.

Shopping areas that drew the most tourists included, by rank, 16th Street Mall, Cherry Creek, Denver Pavilions, Denver Union Station, Park Meadows Retail Resort and Larimer Square.

Some interesting factoids from the study:

  • 80% of Denver visitors are repeat, and 88% reported they were “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their trip.
  • Business travelers spend the most, an average of $173 per day, versus $158 per day for “marketable” tourists (those not coming to visit friends or relatives) and finally $73 for day trippers.
  • Most tourists come in the summer months, 29%, but the other seasons are pretty evenly matched after that at 21-25%.
  • Most tourists coming to visit friends and relatives didn’t use the guest room; 78% used commercial lodging.
  • Most out-of-state visitors came from Texas (11%), followed by California (10%) and Florida (6%).
  • Cities sending the most tourists to Denver included Los Angeles (5%), Dallas-Fort Worth (3%), New York (3%) and Albuquerque-Santa Fe (2%).

Visit Denver targeted four of those cities in its marketing campaign in 2021.

The marketing campaign yielded 1.2 million more trips, $338 million in increased visitor spending and $38 million more in state and local taxes. That means for every $1 spent on marketing, there was $151 return on investment in increased tourist spending and $17 more in tax revenue.

“Tourism continues to be a key economic driver for our city, and we are pleased to see travel demand return,” Scharf said in a news release. “That said, these current results occurred before the current headwinds we are experiencing from the Omicron wave earlier this year, the sharp increase in travel costs, continued softness in the group and business travel market, and the delayed return of the international visitor into 2023.”

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