Encountering hikers from abroad is commonplace in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

Photo by Tom Ross

Encountering hikers from abroad is commonplace in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

Tom Ross: Colorado hasn't tapped into international tourism the way Arizona has

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Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Tom here.

— We were hiding out in a cabin in Tropic, Utah, population 527, last week when the resort handyman slipped us his business card and offered his services as a tour guide. Later that night, he would change into an Old West gunslinger costume replete with a six-shooter loaded with .22-caliber blanks to entertain a busload of tourists.

They rolled in after dark for a barbecue chicken dinner and a few sets of country Western tunes from the local cover band, which was greeted with whoop and hollers.

If you’re planning a road trip to the American Southwest late this fall or perhaps next spring, you might want to brush up on a few conversational phrases in German and get ready to make friends.

We’ve grown accustomed to meeting significant numbers of visitors from abroad during trips to Utah, Arizona and New Mexico over the past few years. But the trend was more evident than ever during a five-day dash to Bryce Canyon National Park last week.

Visitors from France and Great Britain were visiting the campgrounds, some piloting the ubiquitous Cruise America rental motor homes, and others making the most of tiny camping outfits packed into sub-compact cars. Visitors from Asia were particularly visible at Bryce Canyon.

We felt outnumbered in Tropic on Thursday night when we arrived at Clarke’s, the only true dinner spot in town. The food servers were international and so was the clientele.

Without international tourism destined for Bryce Canyon National Park 11 miles away, there wouldn’t be as many Tropic locals as fully employed as they are in 2012. The town has its act together and is prospering.

During our trip we chatted with our neighbors from Germany in the campground in Goblin Valley State Park and enthusiastically endorsed their plans to make a swing into Colorado to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park. And I’m puzzled why more of my new international friends don’t come to Colorado to visit.

Now, I love Utah and the desert Southwest. But we’ve got better wildflowers, better mountains, better dude ranches, better bicycling weather, better trout fishing, better wildlife watching, better rodeos and better music festivals. And we definitely have better restaurants (sorry, Clarke’s, the salad was wonderful but the veggies were overcooked).

I checked out the official Arizona Office of Tourism Web page to find out more about the impacts the home state of the Grand Canyon receives from international visitors.

In 2011, 864,000 visitors from abroad visited Arizona and nearly 30 percent had household incomes of $120,000 or more.

Forty percent of international visitors to Arizona first arrived in the country in Los Angeles and 63.3 percent of them were repeat visitors to the U.S. Of the total, 13.4 percent found their way to Bryce Canyon, but 76 percent visited one of the national parks.

Here’s some really good news — the average number of nights spent in the U.S. was 22.3, and only five of them were spent in Arizona. But the number of those Arizona visitors who visited Colorado was just 5.8 percent — a couple of percentage points more than visited Texas.

I certainly enjoyed my interactions with a handful of international visitors during my quick trip to Utah last week, and I would look forward to more of an international presence here.

The U.S. Commerce Department ranks Arizona 12th among U.S. states in international tourism with its 864,000 international visitors. Colorado ranks just a few spots lower at 16th, but we welcomed only 446,000 foreign visitors in 2011.

Perhaps we’ll here more about how Colorado could grab a bigger share of that action when the Governor’s Tourism Conference comes to Steamboat Oct. 10 to 12.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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