Report: Tourism contributed $590 million to Grand in 2019
Tourism is a major economic driver in Grand County, but a recent study quantified just how much it contributes to the local area.
The outdoor recreation and tourism impact study commissioned by the Headwaters Trails Alliance looked at the economic and fiscal impact of tourism in Grand. Summit Economies found that outdoor recreation accounts for a whopping 78% of the county’s economy.
According to the report, more than two million visitors came to Grand in 2019 resulting in $590 million of spending in the local economy. Directly and indirectly, the report said tourism accounts for 8,058 of the roughly 10,000 jobs in Grand.
There’s a lot of outdoor recreation opportunities in the county, as listed by the study: five wilderness areas, over 1,000 miles of trails, one national park, the highest continuous highway in the country, two downhill ski areas, two bike parks, four Nordic centers with more Nordic trails and a longer Nordic season than anywhere else in North America, one of the most popular backcountry ski areas in the state, a natural hot springs, two backcountry huts, six reservoirs open to water recreation, a premier whitewater destination, and the snowmobiling capital of Colorado.
Using cellphone GPS data, checked against data from several other sources, the study focused on visits in 2019 as the most recent “normal” year for the county.
Summer accounted for 56% of visitors, but the largest share of visit days (22%) were spent downhill skiing at resorts. Sightseeing/wildlife viewing and hiking were the next most popular activities, and one in 10 visit days to the county were spent at Rocky Mountain National Park.
Average trailhead use more than doubled from 2000 to 2018, increasing at two and a half times the rate of population growth in Grand.
One surprising piece of data was just how many people come to the county to go tubing or sledding, nearly 5%. The activity is a large driver for visitors to stay overnight in the county, with seven different locations for tubing in Grand.
“These add up to an unexpectantly significant economic impact,” the summary said.
The study found that overnight visitors stay in the county for an average of 3.5 days. The split between day visitors and overnight visitors is roughly 50/50 for Grand, but the spending between the two groups is split 20/80.
Because overnight visitors tend to spend so much more money, the study looked at what activities lend themselves to extended stays. More than 70% of horseback riding and snowmobiling visitors stay overnight.
Downhill skiing at resorts accounts for nearly a third of tourism spending in the county, but snowmobiling, hunting and golf also yield a high amount of spending per day and per visitor.
Another part of the study look at second homeowners. According to Summit, 75% of residential property value in the county and most of the construction industry comes from second homes. Homes closer to recreation assets can increase in value by up to 58% per square foot.
Summit emphasized population trends as an indicator that the tourism industry will continue to grow. Grand County has seen a 378% increase of population over the past 50 years, outpacing the state’s population increase of 261% over the same period.
This growth is reflected in tax revenue across the board. County sales tax dollars have seen an increase of 10% annually over the past five years — exceeding population growth — and continued to grow in 2020 despite the pandemic. Lodging tax revenue has nearly doubled in the past five years, growing an average of 15% per year.
While all this will drive greater economic growth, the study warned that it will also increase the demands on recreation assets. Degradation of outdoor recreation tends to come from overcrowding, overuse and insufficient maintenance along with natural causes like beetle kill and wildfires.
The study concluded that continued growth will offer substantial economic opportunities for the county but could also stress those same economic assets.
“Given the contribution of the county’s outdoor recreation sector, economically and fiscally, compared to other industry sectors, it is necessary that the assets supporting the local economy receive the support necessary to maintain, or improve, their value,” the study concluded.
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