Colorado Springs tourism officials are optimistic that visitors will return to the Pikes Peak area in near record numbers as the 2-year-old COVID-19 pandemic fades from view.
Officials believe travelers across the country are ready to take vacations after two years of trying to avoid infection, and they are spending heavily to bring those visitors to the region. Visit Colorado Springs, the region’s leading tourism promotion agency, doubled its marketing budget to $3.7 million, including a special campaign targeting visitors to six major cities, while the Pikes Peak Country Attractions Association, a trade group for area sights, is hosting a group of travel writers next month.
“We’re hoping for a banner year. While gas prices are certainly a wildcard and will remain so, I’m confident pent-up demand (for travel) will be very strong,” Visit Colorado Springs CEO Doug said. Price. “While group and business travel are likely two years away from a full recovery, leisure travel is filling in the gaps. We’re not quite back to pre-COVID levels, but the Hotel occupancy was down only a few percentage points compared to 2019.”
Both agencies are using federal funds from last year’s American Rescue Plan Act federal stimulus legislation to boost marketing efforts. Visit Colorado Springs spends nearly $1 million marketing in five cities with nonstop air service – Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Phoenix – as well as Washington, DC, a major source of local visitors. The attractions association is hosting a four-day Society of American Travel Writers Freelance Writers Conference.
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As the outlook for Colorado’s 2022 tourist season appears stronger than last year, particularly for the West Rim and resorts, industry officials are holding their breath inflation does not continue to rise. worsen and any new outbreak of COVID is more manageable.
“We’re anticipating a busy summer,” said Colorado Tourism Board director Tim Wolfe.
The Colorado Legislature approved a $20.3 million budget for the Colorado Office of Tourism in the fiscal year beginning July 1, restoring funding levels to pre-pandemic levels.
Visit Colorado Springs hopes the six-city advertising blitz will boost nonstop flights operated by the five major carriers serving Colorado Springs and perhaps convince one of them to add a nonstop flight to Washington, Price said. . The ads, which began May 1 and are scheduled to run through November 15, will complement the rest of the agency’s marketing efforts, with an additional $2.7 million in advertising and marketing from local hotels and other tourism businesses and the municipal tax on hotel rooms and rental cars. .
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The attractions group is spending $164,000 to host 27 independent travel writers’ group board members from June 5-9, including attendees from Colorado, California and Canada, said PK McPherson, executive director of the band. She expects the conference to pay dividends in the months and years to come thanks to the stories and blog posts generated by event attendees which over the past few years have generated up to 500 million web page views.
Visitor numbers at attractions in the Pikes Peak area have increased since February with record attendance in March, particularly from travelers arriving from the east and west coasts, McPherson said. As gas prices and airfares have hit record highs in recent weeks, she expects the mix of visitors to shift to those arriving from adjacent states, including Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, which generally generate many visitors to the region.
“Although gasoline is selling for over $4 a gallon, we are seeing strong activity on our website and many of our attractions are reporting their best March ever,” McPherson said. “I expect travelers to stay closer to home, which likely means a larger percentage of in-state visitors,” a trend that gained traction in the early months of the pandemic and is growing. continued for most of the past two years.
Price said he hopes a few special events, including the June 24 induction of new members into the United States Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame at the United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum in downtown Colorado Springs , will attract many visitors. He is also encouraged by the recent reopening of the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center which will attract more visitors, especially as they can visit the center and museum in one trip for the first time.
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Statewide numbers for 2021 are not yet available, but they will certainly be better than the dismal pandemic year in 2020. Statewide travel spending fell 36 % in 2020 to reach $15.4 billion, down from a record $24.2 billion in 2019. Colorado attracted a record 86.9 million visitors in 2019, but visitation numbers fell nearly 13 million in 2020, according to the state tourism board.
Returning European travelers and increased business and convention travel should help boost visitor numbers this year, said Richard Scharf, president and CEO of Visit Denver.
“The Front Range is definitely slower to come back due to the business travel and group market,” which took longer to recover, Scharf said. “But after the first two months of the year in the face of the impact of Omicron, we are currently seeing huge demand.”
“That pure convention and transient business (travel) is what fills those 12,000 rooms in downtown Denver,” Wolfe said. “If you don’t have that, then you just have the leisure traveler. And they don’t come to Denver so much as to the mountains for recreation.
Scharf said a bright spot this year will be the return of European travellers.
Will the return of international travelers boost Colorado’s tourism industry?
“We could actually grow 20% there from 2019,” Scharf said. “Think of all the airlines that have resumed international flights.”
International travelers can spend up to five times more than local or even domestic tourists, Wolfe said.
“International tourists spent $1.8 billion in 2019, and that figure dropped to around $360,000 in 2020,” Wolfe said. “They are the biggest spender tourists we have. … They spend over $2,000 per person for their stay. The drive-in market spends much less.
Mountain tourism officials agreed that 2021 was a robust year for tourism, despite pandemic-related restrictions, and that 2022 is likely to be a strong year for the industry as well.
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“We anticipate a strong summer in 2022,” said Blair McGary, executive director of The Summit Chamber (Summit County). “Housing rentals in Breckenridge are up 20% and there is about a 6% increase in units available. People have been coming for two years and we are anticipating another very strong summer season.
Tourist visits to Glenwood Springs are so strong that the city doesn’t even market summer tourism.
“We’ve really scaled things back for the summer because we’re really busy,” said Lisa Langer, director of tourism for Visit Glenwood Springs. “Our primary media buys are for our shoulder seasons – fall, winter and spring.”
Many cities and regions in Colorado are so busy during peak summer season that the Colorado Office of Tourism helps them manage visitors in a way that prevents environmental damage.
The office launched a “Do Colorado Right” marketing campaign that emphasizes sustainable tourism.
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“We’re talking about helping them pass on sustainability practices.. and making sure we don’t lose sight of the seasons when they still want this type of visitation,” Wolfe said.
The office awards about $2 million a year to “destination management organizations” in these cities to help deliver this message.
“We really try to educate tourists on how we can avoid loving these places to death,” McGary said. “Of course we want to embrace the tourism that is coming, but make sure these places will last for future generations as well.”
Popular destinations in Summit County include the Breckenridge, Lake Dillion, and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, which offers a ropes course in the summer, and the Ferrata Climbing Adventure on the east wall of the mountain.
In this vein of sustainability, tourists will for the first time have to make reservations for some popular tourist sites and pay for parking areas that were free.
Officials tout a “know before you go” approach.
“We introduced the Quandary Peak shuttle system last year, where people park and pay at Airport Road,” McGary said. “It’s a nominal fee of $6 for locals or $15 for others. Trailheads have just been flooded for the past two or three years.
She also urged visitors to try to visit during off-peak hours, either earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon.
“If you arrive at 6 a.m., you’ll probably find a parking space,” she said. “We’ve also warned people about how Silverthorne backs off I-70 Exit 205 every Sunday between 1-5 p.m. It’s worse in the summer due to RVs and trucks pulling campers.”
Summit and Glenwood Springs officials had another message for visitors: be kind.
The labor shortage that worsened during the pandemic years is still there, with many companies short of 25% of the staff they need.
“Just be nice and relax,” Langer said.
“Be nice to frontline workers,” McGary said. “They’re doing their best, but you’re going to experience waits and delays.”