Tourist season affected by rain, hotel chains

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More troubling than weeks of afternoon thunderstorms are the effects from the flood of large motel chains on local businessmen in the tourism industry.

Even if the state’s $9 million in expenditures on advertising would definitely improve this year’s tourist season, it probably won’t make a difference to Bill James or George James, who are unrelated motel owners in Manitou Springs.

“This is our worst year in our 13 years here,” said Bill James of the Eagle Motel. “On a scale of 1 to 10, this year is probably a 2.”

The Eagle Motel has 25 rooms and rates hover around $89 in the summer.

“Normally we’re sold out from the beginning of June through September,” Bill James said, adding that this summer he’s seen no more than 30 percent occupancy. He said the national economy and an overabundance of hotel rooms in the area are contributing to his falling revenues.

Of the 15,000 hotel rooms in Colorado Springs, about 6,000 have been built in the last four or five years by large budget motel chains, including Holiday Inn, Comfort Inn and Super 8.

“The full-service hotels with a corporate flag identity such as Hilton, Fairfield Inn and La Quinta, appear to be doing fairly well,” said Terry Sullivan, president of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But small independent hotels are challenged because of the behavioral patterns of travelers who seek a brand in the product they consume. You are more likely to patronize a McDonald’s than you would an independent chain with sandwiches for $2.99 each.”

It would seem the so-called McDonald’s effect is slashing expected revenues for local motel owners.

George James, who runs the Dillon Motel in Manitou Springs, echoed the other James’ sentiment.

“Way too many motel rooms built is the No. 1 reason,” he said. “Somebody has to bring in 6,000 more cars a day to make up for those hotel rooms that have been added.”

The Dillon Motel, which has 16 units, including several large “luxury” rooms that rival any Sheraton, George James said, has rates between $54 and $119.

George James said that Memorial Day weekend was a disaster. With only two rooms rented Friday night, five rooms rented Saturday night and another two on Sunday, it was the worst Memorial Day weekend he remembers. On the Monday before the July 4th weekend, just three rooms were occupied.

“Last year was the worst year we ever had here,” George James said. “This is so far worse than the worst year. My occupancy rate is down 60 percent from last year. And it’s not just me. It’s everybody over here.”

Although recent rainfall is helping quench the thirst of the parched earth under Colorado Springs, the precipitation could have a negative effect on this summer’s attraction revenues.

And as goes the summer tourist season, so goes the city’s budget for next year, in part.

Approximately 23 percent of the city’s annual revenues are derived from visitors to the Pikes Peak region, Sullivan said. “Tourism is important to the residents of this community because it decreases their annual tax burden directly,” he said.

“It’s estimated that every resident of Colorado would pay $125 more annually in taxes if visitors did not come to Colorado. If we shut down the gates to Colorado, you could make the assumption that residents would end up paying for it.”

After all, it’s better to let the nice folks from Texas or Tennessee pay their share to keep our roads repaired and our streets clean, since they use them, too.

And then there’s the rain.

So far, the afternoon thunderstorms have affected mostly outdoor attractions.

Michelle Carvell of Pikes Peak Country Attractions, a nonprofit organization that represents 40 sites in the area, said an informal survey revealed that numbers dropped in June.

“We’re thankful for the rain because of the drought situation, but certainly it has affected the outdoor attractions,” Carvell said. “The thing is, they can’t make up these days later in the summer. These days are just lost revenue.”

But not all outdoor attractions are suffering.

At Garden of the Gods, the forecast looks strong for a profitable summer season. At the Trading Post, the state’s largest gift shop, a little afternoon shower doesn’t hurt. Sometimes, it helps.

“We are fortunate that even though Garden of the Gods is an outdoor attraction, people can still tour it even if it’s raining,” said Tim Hoss, who manages the Trading Post. “If the rain starts, they tend to come inside for awhile, and we don’t mind that.”

And like most residents of the Springs, even those negatively impacted within the tourist trade, the fact remains that our city needs the water.

“Everyone I’ve spoken with is grateful for the rain because of the drought,” Hoss said. “We’re willing to suffer a bit [of rain] in June to avoid fires in July.”

Despite the weather, all is not lost. Sullivan said he’s hopeful that 2004 will be the best summer since 2000.

Part of Sullivan’s hope could be the state’s advertising campaign-$9 million from the state tourism office is in the national marketplace prompting people to come visit Colorado, he said-and part could be that this could be a summer without the typical challenges of drought, fire or West Nile disease.

“The rain hasn’t been helpful, but honestly, people are here one way or the other,” Sullivan said. “The weather doesn’t necessarily dissuade them, but it does disappoint them once they get here.”

However, motel owner George James is not convinced that those advertising dollars will affect this year’s season. “It will take another two or three years before we realize any benefits from that. It doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a process you have to go through.”

The Travel Industry Association of America predicts a 3.2 percent increase in leisure travel for summer 2004, which would be 334 million “person-trips” (one person traveling 50-plus miles away from home) compared to 324 million vacations in 2003.

At the association’s Web site, www.tia.org, Colorado ranks fifth on the “wish list” where Americans most want to visit, pulling in 12 percent of the votes.

– Editorial@csbj.com