Colorado’s seven Welcome Centers constitute welcome relief for visitors plus a welcome contribution to the state’s coffers, according to Colorado State University researchers.
A just-released survey, based on 1998 data, found that 72 percent of out-of-state visitors entering Colorado said using a restroom was the most important reason for stopping. However, 88 percent said they stopped to get what the centers offer–information about Colorado.
Putting out the welcome mat brought in an estimated $22-$25 million to the state’s economy last year, according to study authors Glenn Haas, professor of natural resource tourism and recreation, and graduate student Bert Ballard. The Department of Local Affairs maintains and operates the Welcome Centers to provide information to visitors, lengthen vacation itineraries and increase tourist expenditures in Colorado. The report said the centers are effective in those tasks.
"I think the Welcome Center program has to be one of the most successful programs in the state from the standpoints of efficiency, economic return and public goodwill," Haas said, noting that 88 percent of visitors gave the Welcome Centers an A grade and 99 percent said they would recommend a stop to family or friends.
Ballard, who conducted the research for his master’s thesis, agreed.
"Welcome Centers had a positive impact on visitors," Ballard said. Some 60 percent of travelers said the centers had a "moderate to great" influence on returning to Colorado on the next vacation. Fifty-eight percent said stopping increased their enjoyment of vacationing in Colorado, 54 percent said the centers provided information about attractions that they subsequently visited and 40 percent said Welcome Center information affected which highways they drove.
"Another 23 percent said Welcome Center information affected the lodging they stayed in, 22 percent said it influenced events they participated in and one in five said visiting the center influenced how much money they spent."
The survey questioned out-of-state vacationers traveling in private vehicles who entered Colorado and visited centers at Burlington and Fruita on Interstate 70, Julesburg on Interstate 76 and Trinidad on Interstate 25. Additional centers are located at Cortez, Dinosaur and Lamar.
Two-thirds of the Welcome Center visitors out of about 500 surveyed indicated moderate to very flexible vacation itineraries upon entering Colorado, according to Ballard, so information provided at the sites influenced their vacation plans in the state. Visitors also indicated that they planned long vacations (18 days) with multiple destinations in multiple states.
Typical Welcome Center visitors were Caucasian with more than 40 percent earning between $35,000 and $75,000 in household income. More than three-quarters had a college education. Twenty-two percent traveled with children.
What all this means to the state’s economy is demonstrated by two measures, Ballard said.
The first is the estimated direct economic impact of non-resident travelers who, due to stopping at a Welcome Center, spent additional nights touring Colorado. For 1998, that sum was $7.5 million with welcome centers influencing visitors to stay an additional two-plus nights in Colorado.
However, Ballard said, "In combination with an earlier, 1988 survey and the 1998 study findings, and considering all Welcome Center visitors, the overall total economic impact of the State Welcome Center program was estimated to be in the range of $22-$25 million for 1998."
Per day, Ballard said, visitors spent an average of $162.47, with 32 percent of that going for lodging, 23 percent for food and 15 percent for vehicle-related expenses.
I-25’s northernmost section, the only major entry to Colorado lacking a Welcome Center, will get one soon as Colorado State, state agencies and the Fort Collins Convention and Visitors Center collaborate on a site near the interstate and adjacent to the university’s Environmental Learning Center, Haas noted.
Ballard thinks existing and planned centers are worthwhile in influencing visitors to Colorado.
"The study’s findings suggest that Welcome Centers have and continue to provide high-quality information to visitors," he said. "This influences their vacation itineraries and decisions and has a substantial economic impact on the state.
"That a large percentage of visitors would recommend the centers suggests that the influence and impacts of Welcome Centers goes beyond 1998 to future vacations."