Despite Pot, Gun Control, Visitors Flocking To Colorado

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Despite calls for boycotts from people upset about Colorado’s new laws on gun control and legal pot, the state broke almost every tourism record in 2013, with out-of-state visitors spending more than $4 billion for the first time.

That’s a 12 percent increase over 2012, reported Visit Denver, the city’s tourism and convention bureau, the same year that voters legalized marijuana. That vote concerned state leaders who worried that Colorado’s image would suffer and led some ski visitors to swear off the state, citing worries about exposing children to hordes of stoned skiers.

Both concerns turned out to be overblown. Colorado saw a record 27.1 million vacationers last year and Denver hosted a record 14 million overnight visitors.

The ski resorts also saw a record 12.6 million visits, a 10 percent increase over the previous year, in spite of at-times lurid national media reports about illicit marijuana smoke shacks existing on some of the slopes.

But whether marijuana’s legality is actually driving tourism remains an open question. Michael Erdman, the senior vice president of Longwoods International, the survey firm that produced the tourism figures for Visit Denver, said legal pot probably wouldn’t have an effect either way, even though 2014 is the first year adults can legally buy it at state-sanctioned retail stores.

At a news conference, he said only a “small sliver” of visitors come specifically to buy pot, according to the Denver Business Journal.

Likewise, rancorous calls for a tourism boycott — including for hunting — by Second Amendment activists in the wake of several controversial new gun control laws seem to have had no effect.

In fact, figures from Longwoods show that Denver is emerging as a destination in its own right rather than simply as a portal to recreation hubs in the mountains. This is reflected in the number of “marketable visitors” to the city, people who are wealthy enough to travel anywhere as opposed to those who come to town to visit family and friends.

Denver saw a record-setting 5.5 million of these visitors, a 13 percent increase over 2012 and four points higher than the national average, according to Visit Denver.

“It’s exciting to see that our marketing efforts are working and we are continuing to drive new lucrative ‘marketable’ visitors to Denver,” said Richard Scharf, Visit Denver’s president and CEO, in a press release.

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