Colorado Springs tourism leaders are hopeful that visitors will return to the Pikes Peak region in near-record numbers as the two-year COVID-19 pandemic disappears from sight.
Officials believe Americans are ready to take a vacation after two years of trying to avoid infection, and they are spending heavily to bring visitors to the region. Visit Colorado Springs, the region’s leading tourism promotion agency, has doubled its sales budget to $ 3.7 million, including a special campaign targeting visitors from six major cities, while Pikes Peak Country Attractions Association, a trade group for tourism areas in the region, hosts. a group of writers travel next month.
“We’re hoping for a record year. While gas prices are certainly a wild card and will remain so, I’m confident that pent-up demand (for travel) will be very strong. , “said Guest Colorado Springs CEO Doug Price.
“While group and business travel may be two years from a full recovery, leisure travel fills the gaps. We have not yet returned to pre-COVID levels, but hotel occupancy has declined. at some percentage point from 2019. ”
Both agencies are using federal funding from last year’s American Rescue Plan Act federal stimulus to boost marketing efforts. A visit to Colorado Springs cost nearly $ 1 million to market to five cities with non-stop airline service-Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Phoenix-as well as Washington, DC, a major source. to local visitors.
Gas prices hit a record high in Colorado Springs
While the outlook for Colorado’s 2022 tourism season looks stronger than last year, especially for the Western Slope and resort towns, industry officials are holding their breath as inflation will not continue to worsen and any new COVID outbreaks will be more manageable.
“We’re looking forward to a busy summer,” said Tim Wolfe, director of the Colorado Tourism Office.
The Legislature approved a $ 20.3 million budget for the Colorado Office of Tourism in the fiscal year beginning July 1, restoring the funding level to pre-pandemic levels.
The visit to Colorado Springs hopes the six-city advertising blitz will boost non-stop flights operated by all five major carriers serving Colorado Springs and perhaps entice one of them to add non-stop flights. to Washington, Price said. The ads, which begin May 1 and are scheduled to run through Nov. 15, will add to the agency’s remaining marketing efforts, another $ 2.7 million in advertising and marketing coming from local hotels and other tourism businesses and city tax on hotel rooms. and rental cars.
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The group of attractions spent $ 164,000 to host 27 members of the Society of American Travel Writers June 5-9, including participants from Colorado, California and Canada, said PK McPherson, executive director of the group. He expects the conference to pay dividends in the coming months and years from stories and blog posts generated from event participants that in previous years have generated up to 500 million page views on internet.
The numbers of visitors to the Pikes Peak region’s attractions have been growing since February with record attendance in March, especially from travelers arriving from the East and West Coasts, McPherson said. As gas prices and airline fares have risen to record levels in recent weeks, he expects the mix of visitors to move in arrivals from neighboring states, including Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, which usually generates a lot of visitors to the region.
“Despite selling gas for more than $ 4 a gallon, we’ve seen strong activity on our website, and many of our attractions are reporting their best March since,” McPherson said. “I expect travelers to stay closer to home, which likely means a much larger percentage of visitors to the state,” a trend that gained traction in the early months of the pandemic and continued for most of the last two years.
Price said he hopes some special events, including the June 24 induction of new members of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum in downtown Colorado Springs, will be a big one. guest draw. He also feels that the recently opened Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs will attract more visitors.
Hotel occupancy in Colorado Springs is a record for December
Statewide tourism numbers in 2021 are not yet available, but are certainly better than the miserable year of 2020. Statewide travel spending dropped 36% that year to $ 15.4 billion from a record year. $ 24.2 billion in 2019. Colorado got a record 86.9 million visitors in 2019, but the number of visitors dropped to nearly 13 million by 2020, according to the state tourism office.
The return of travelers to Europe and the increase in travel and convention business should help increase the number of visitors this year, said Richard Scharf, president and CEO of Visit Denver.
“Front Range is definitely slower to come back because of the market travel business and groups,” which is slower to recover, Scharf said. “But after the first couple of months of the year dealing with the omicron impact, we’re seeing a lot more demand now.”
“That pure convention and passing business (travel) is what fills those 12,000 rooms in downtown Denver,” Wolfe said. “If you don’t have that, then you’re the only one traveling for fun. And they don’t go to Denver like the mountains for fun.
Scharf said a bright spot this year is the return of European travelers.
Will the return of international travelers boost Colorado’s tourism industry?
“We could grow 20% there, compared to 2019,” Scharf said. “Think of all the planes that go on international trips.”
International travelers can spend up to five times more than local or even national tourists, according to Wolfe.
“International tourists spent $ 1.8 billion in 2019, and that’s down to $ 360,000 by 2020,” Wolfe said. “They are the highest cost spending tourists we have.… They will spend more than $ 2,000 per person on their stay. The drive-in market will cost less.
Mountain tourism officials agree that 2021 is a strong year, despite pandemic bans, and that 2022 is likely to be a strong year for the industry as well.
Colorado Springs ’tourism season is‘ historic ’despite the pandemic
“We look forward to a strong summer of 2022,” said Blair McGary, executive director of The Summit Chamber (Summit County). “Rents for lodging in Breckenridge have risen 20% and there has been about a 6% increase in available units. People have been coming in the last two years, and we expect another strong season in summer. ”
Tourist visits to Glenwood Springs are so fast, the city doesn’t even sell summer tourism.
“We really ratcheted things up for the summer because we were so busy,” said Lisa Langer, director of tourism at Visit Glenwood Springs. “Our main media purchase is for our shoulder seasons – fall, winter and spring.”
Many cities and regions are very busy during the peak summer season, the Colorado Tourism Office helps them manage visitors in a way that prevents environmental damage.
The office is launching a “Do Colorado Right” marketing campaign that focuses on sustainable tourism.
Colorado Springs summer tourism season: ‘Get ready to blow on the doors’
“We’re talking about helping them communicate sustainability habits … and making sure we don’t forget the times they want that kind of visit,” Wolfe said.
The office provides about $ 2 million annually to “destination management organizations” in these municipalities to help them deliver that message.
“We really try to educate tourists on how we can avoid loving these places to death,” McGary said. “Of course, we want to welcome the tourism of the future, but make sure these places will also last for future generations.”
Popular Summit County destinations include the Breckenridge, Lake Dillion and Arapahoe Basin ski areas, which offer a summer ropes course and the Ferrata Climbing Adventure on the mountain’s East Wall.
With that vein going on, tourists will have to make reservations for some popular tourist spots for the first time and pay for parking areas for free.
Officials say it’s a “know before you go” approach.
“We implemented the Quandary Peak shuttle system last year, where people park and pay on Airport Road,” McGary said. “It’s a small fee of $ 6 for locals, or $ 15 for others. Trailheads have only recently been flooded in the last two to three years.”
He also encouraged guests to try visiting during off -hours, either early in the morning or in the afternoon.
“If you get there at 6 in the morning, you’ll probably find parking,” he said. “We’re also warning people how Silverthorne backs up on I-70 Exit 205 every Sunday between 1 and 5 p.m. It’s worse in the summer because of RVs and trucks pulling over campers.”
Summit and Glenwood Springs officials have another message for visitors: Be kind.
The labor shortage that grew sharply in the pandemic years is still there, with many businesses lacking 25% of the staff they need.
“Just be kind and relax,” Langer said.
“Be kind to the workers ahead,” McGary said. “They do the best they can, but you get to experience waiting and delays.”