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Colorado urges Australia to reclaim its top long-haul visitor status

A delegation from the Colorado Tourism Office has wrapped up a week-long promotional tour of Australia and New Zealand.

The Colorado Tourism delegation with its local representative office, Linkd Tourism.

Like the late singer song writer John Denver, we have long been drawn by the beauty of Rocky Mountain High. 

Prior to the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19, Australia sat on the pedestal as Colorado’s number one long-haul customer after breaking record after record in the years leading up to 2020.

It was estimated that before the pandemic struck, more than 75,000 Australians were visiting the USA state annually, primarily for the powder snow at such popular resort centres as Aspen, Telluride and Vail, to mention three among the state’s 28 ski areas.

In addition to increased numbers, Australians were staying longer and spending more with each visit.

Sadly, it all came to a halt three years ago and the avalanche of visitors from Down Under melted abruptly.

Today, with 2023 marking the first full year free of restrictions for Australians visiting the United States, Colorado is making a promising post-pandemic return. Aussies now sit in number two position behind the UK - the relegation not befitting our previous love affair with the Rocky Mountains regions.

A combination of higher international airfares and a poor exchange rate with the US dollar has not helped in achieving the much-needed increased numbers - so too price-driven competition for skiers to take an alternative route to time-zone friendly Japan.

“We want Australians to return,” urged Visit Telluride VP Communications Tom Watkinson.

“They have been number one for years and we want them to return to that position - as soon as possible,” he said. 

The Rocky Mountains are famous for its winter playground appeal.

Such is the importance of the Australian market to Colorado, a delegation of tourism officials from the Colorado Tourism Office, Vail Resorts, Visit Denver, Visit Durango, Alterra Mountain Resorts and Visit Telluride made the journey to our shores to share their latest news - along with Australian based representatives from Aspen and the Colorado Tourism Office - with travel agents and potential future consumers.

Colorado Tourism Director Tim Wolfe said that while many Australians were drawn to Colorado for its skiing and winter playground appeal, the state has always been an all-seasons destination. 

He pointed to the natural wildernesses, the trails, and the many outdoor activities such as cycling, hiking, canyoning and sightseeing when the temperature was 30C and the humidity low.

“And if you are a golfer, you will be able to hit the ball further than at home because of the high altitude,” he laughed. “We have courses for all standards and budgets.”

Wolfe said the best kept secret was Fall (autumn) when the colours of the leaves were spectacular, and crowds were sparse. A range of interesting festivals were also staged during that time of the year.

Appealing to many is that Colorado is home to 1,500 ghost towns, more than 30 guest ranches, 29 hot springs and hundreds of working breweries, distilleries, and wineries.

In supporting Colorado’s outdoor adventure appeal, Visit Durango’s Rachel Welsh said that it was so popular every person had an average of 10 bicycles.

The natural magnetism of Durango, population 666,000, spans to the UNESCO World Heritage protected national park, Mesa Verde, one of four national parks in Colorado, renowned for protecting some of the best-preserved Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites in the USA.

Among the much sought-after things to do from Durango is the scenic 3hr 30-minute return narrow gauge rail journey into the mountains of San Juan National Park which meanders to Silverton with panoramic views of the Animas River Gorge. The iconic train has been running for more than 140 years. 

While in Sydney, the Colorado team took the time to enjoy our local sights.

Throughout the Sydney presentation, focus centred on Colorado’s determination to protect and preserve the environment for future generations through responsible and sustainable tourism projects, of note the ongoing ‘Do Colorado Right’ campaign. 

Colorado is home to two cities powered by renewable energy, where visitors to both Aspen and Glenwood Springs can holiday with little carbon impact.

State capital Denver is consistently ranked among the most sustainable cities in the USA, with the state’s ability to provide good accessibility for disadvantaged tourists also impressive.

So, too, the opportunities to enjoy such luxuries as dining at a Michelin quality restaurant “without spending a lot”.

Of huge interest are the dinosaur tracks and the thousands of dinosaur bones that have been unearthed in corners of Colorado, most dating back 150 million years, at a time when the mountainous region was inundated by water.

Denver loved his time in Aspen and co-wrote the hit song and title track of the 1972 album Rocky Mountain High which understandably became of one of the two official state songs of Colorado.

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Written by: Mike Smith
Published: 10 September 2023

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