Andrea Blankenship from the Colorado Tourism Office reveals what’s new for visitors

Travel Daily catches up with Andrea Blankenship, director of international tourism at Colorado Tourism Office.

What is your role and how long have you held it?

I’ve held the position of Director of International Tourism at Colorado Tourism Office since July 2016, following 21 years in the travel and aviation industry.

How have UK visitor statistics compared this year with last?

For the sixth consecutive year, Colorado has seen record growth. The destination has experienced a 37% visitation increase since 2009, more than double the 17% growth in U.S. travel overall.

In 2016, it welcomed 82.4 million visitors who spent $19.7 billion.

Approximately 75,000 visitors were from the UK and Ireland in 2016.

Has the tourist office launched any new campaigns?

Colorado Tourism Office has created a Historic Hot Springs Loop, encouraging visitors to explore the state’s time-honoured tradition to enhance wellness, which dates back to the Ute Indians. A 720-mile loop encompassing 19 hot spring destinations, includes the world’s largest mineral hot springs pool, vapour caves and hot pots. Incorporating Buena Vista, Glenwood Springs, Ouray, Pagosa Springs, Ridgway, Salida and Steamboat Springs, the initiative has exemplified regions coming together to create a new offering using natural resources without building new attractions for tourism.

The tourism office also continues to develop the ‘Come to life’ campaign, which is centred around people coming to life through experiences and moments when visiting the state. In addition to integrating this into our website and communications, we encourage visitors to utilise the hashtag #ColoradoLive to share their own experiences on social media.

Specific to the UK, more programmes are being developed by tour operators than ever before, with a number of co-op campaigns to launch these. Those currently developing new programmes in the UK are Audley, Barrhead Travel, Destinology, Original Travel and Flight Centre; whilst operators enhancing product are American Sky, American and Worldwide Travel, BA Holidays, Discover North America,, North American Travel Service and USAirtours.

What specifically is the tourist office aiming to promote to UK visitors?

With the launch of direct flights from Norwegian in September costing from £358 return, to be followed by United in March from £495 return, the Rocky Mountains have never been more accessible or affordable.

The state has experiences that can be enjoyed by all ages and is the perfect destination for anyone looking for adventure (of any level) and the great outdoors – whether this be on a dude ranch, a road trip, a mountain hike or camping on the side of a cliff. Adventure isn’t limited to open spaces either, with Colorado also being a great destination to combine the mountains with an urban getaway.

Denver has more than 85 miles of cycle trails, an abundance of breweries to try out and a huge arts scene to explore, as well as being home to eight pro sports teams, including Denver Broncos.

Colorado has historically been known as a ski destination, but away from the slopes offers unparalleled adventure, an abundant arts scene, Western heritage and a distinctive cuisine that can be found year-round.

The state’s diverse landscape boasts natural hot springs, the headwaters of seven major rivers, numerous peaceful lakes and reservoirs, 12 national parks and monuments and 58 mountain peaks that top 14,000 feet, known as ‘Fourteeners’.

Have you noticed any emerging trends with Brits?

British travellers are increasingly looking to explore beyond the usual tourist hotspots and immerse themselves in to the local culture for experience-rich holidays.

Colorado is very much an outdoor playground with a distinct Old West heritage, which is the perfect combination of off-grid and culturally rich for the intrepid British traveller. We’re seeing a growing importance of local experiences for Brits, who are ultimately looking to eat local produce and ‘live like a local’.

Another trend is for wellness and digital detox breaks in order to escape the demands of modern life, which for Brits is growing twice as fast as tourism in general, particularly among Generation Y. With an abundance of nature-inspired and off-the-grid holidays offered in Colorado, as well as world class spas, the state is well placed for this market.

With increased direct flights to Colorado serviced by Norwegian and United at lower price points than have previously been available, we are seeing a wider variation of budgets and accommodation preferences, with younger travellers often valuing more nights in the city.

Brits are increasingly opting for dual experience holidays which we’ve seen with demand for city and nature itineraries and have responded to this trend by developing product with UK tour operators that incorporate cities with national parks and the historic Old West.

We’ve seen a rise in Brits favouring rail holidays and itineraries within Colorado, on the back of UK personalities, Michael Portillo and Billy Connolly having dedicated USA rail TV series.

What are the new product developments?

In September 2017, Norwegian launched a three-times-weekly direct flight from London to Denver and from 24 March 2018, United Airlines will offer daily non-stop flights from London Heathrow to Denver, joining the existing direct British Airways service.

Photos by Evan Semón

With three airlines linking the UK directly to Denver, the state is set to see continued growth in visitation, encouraged further by lower air fares than previously available.

Colorado will also welcome a number of new hotels in Denver and beyond. Seeing a great deal of regeneration is Denver’s RiNo (River North) district, which has welcomed food markets, tap rooms and a celebrated street art scene in the last few years.

The Source Hotel is expected to open in spring 2018, located next to the popular Source culinary marketplace and will be the first hotel in the RiNo area. The property will feature its own extension of the culinary marketplace as well as a courtyard connecting it to The Source.

Hotel plans also call for a new New Belgium brewing concept to feature sour beers, reflecting Colorado’s expertise in craft beer. This will be followed by The Ramble Hotel, an independently owned, three-story hotel with 50 guestrooms; an intimate theatre and bar; an outdoor courtyard; an independently owned restaurant; and a marquee lobby bar, Death & Co Denver.

What’s your advice to travel agents on selling the destination?

Agents should sell Colorado as a destination for travellers to get outside and do something active – Colorado is the perfect place to test your comfort zone, whether this means taking a dip in one of its many natural hot springs, horseback riding or ice climbing.

For clients seeking a real sense of the Old West and to experience Colorado’s culture, I’d recommend highlighting Colorado’s ranches, even for clients who have never been on a horse before. As well as learning to master horsemanship skills, a ranch stay often offers visitors other local outdoor activities, including white water rafting, fly fishing and hiking.

Agents should also encourage their clients flying into Denver to spend some time in the city. Denver has undergone somewhat of a renaissance in recent years, having redeveloped Union Station and its neighbourhood and the up and coming area, RiNo, filled with street art, tap rooms and breweries now seeing hotel openings. I’d recommend travelling into the city by train, with a 37 minute service direct from Denver International Airport to Union Station for $9.

What training/incentives are you offering travel agents?

Colorado Tourism Office has recently worked with Brand USA to launch the Discover Colorado badge on the USA Discovery Program – an online agent training tool, which is quick, free and easy for agents to sign up to.

The Discover Colorado badge educates agents on the whole state – detailing accommodation, activities and restaurants – which they can complete in their own time. Denver also has a badge on the USA Discovery Program with more in-depth detail on the gateway city.

Colorado Tourism Office also has a UK and Irish agent-focused Facebook page, in which news, quiz questions and fam photos are shared. We’d encourage any agents who are interested in hearing more about the state to join this community.

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