The summer tourist season

Filed under: Focus |

Colorado was the fourth most popular tourist destination in the nation this summer. Hawaii was No. 1 on the tourists’ most wanted list; Florida came in second; and California was the third most desirable place to travel, said Terry Sullivan, the president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Colorado’s popularity is, in part, because of a statewide beefed-up marketing campaign, Sullivan said. “Colorado’s favorable appeal resulted in the Springs having a good summer,” he said. “If you base it on hotel occupancies from the major hotels, it was good.”

The CSCVB member survey of the area’s summer tourist industry was a mixed bag, said Elizabeth Youngquist, the director of public relations and marketing. “We didn’t even write a summary this year because everyone is all over the place,” she said. “And we can’t even compare it to last summer.” Some people reported a great summer and others were disappointed, Youngquist said. “What we do know is everyone had an excellent Memorial Day and Labor Day; the automobile tax is up 1 percent and the bed tax is up 8 percent.”

Much of the disparity is in the hotel industry.

Sullivan said bigger hotels and brand name hotels in the Springs did well this summer. “Hotels that took advantage of Web technology did well because 40 percent of leisure travelers use the Internet to book their hotels,” he said. “People are also looking for consistency and value. They are time-deprived travelers who want to minimize their surprises, and they seek a brand name to ensure all of that.”

The Broadmoor Hotel broke records in June and was strong in July and August, said Allison Scott, the hotel’s director of communications. “We ran from a low-to-mid 90 percent in occupancy, and on average we grew our daily rates by 8 and 10 percent,” she said. “Research indicates that luxury travel is rebounding this summer.”

The Broadmoor’s social business is still the drive market, with Denver as the biggest draw, she said. In 2003, the hotel hosted 423 children, and this year the number of young guests has already exceeded 500, Scott said. “We are definitely seeing more family-type travel,” she said.

“We’re all scratching our heads a little bit. We’d love to say it has to do with our marketing and advertising campaigns but it may also have a lot to do with people not wanting to fly in terms of cost. If I have a family of four, my plane tickets will average about $300 per person, and then there’s the tickets to Disney World, wherever, and the car rentals, and it all adds up. People start thinking there is a five-star hotel down the road with a fabulous swimming pool, plenty of children’s programs and a zoo nearby – why would they go out of state?”

Larry Vitagliano is the vice-president and managing director of the Antler’s Hilton, and he said the downtown hotel experienced higher occupancy rates this past year as well, including the summer tourists. “Occupancy is up about four points, and our rates are up about 3-to-4 percent over 2003,” Vitagliano said. “Our market is primarily 60 percent business and leisure travel and 40 percent group market. We definitely saw an increase in our tourism and leisure market.”

Vitagliano also said state occupancies were up through July about 2.5 percent, and the average rate increased by one-half percent.

On the other side of the bed, George James, the owner of the Dillon Motel in Manitou Springs said this summer was the “worst ever in the history of the motel.” The 16-room motel, which James’ grandparents built in 1947, has dropped in occupancies every year for the last four, he said.

“We filled up maybe four nights this whole summer,” he said. “The No. 1 problem is that we’ve got to bring in 6,000 more people per day in the area to compensate for the overbuilding, and that’s not happening.”

James said his nemesis is the glut of hotel and motel rooms in the Springs, but he added that the economy, the pressures of terrorism and the rainy weather also may have contributed to the motel’s undoing this season.

“I am not even hopeful for tomorrow,” he said. “We are no longer a tourist town; we are just a big city.”

However, despite weather challenges, summer tourism was alive and fairly steady at some area attractions.

Dave Harris is the general manager of Pikes Peak Ghost Town, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. H said the rainy weather brought tourists indoors – a good thing for his business. “It’s kind of like farming, and the weather was definitely on my side,” Harris said. “Colorado didn’t suffer any blows like wildfires, floods or issues related to the West Nile virus, and the state did a fair amount of tourism promotion, which clearly helped.”

Harris said a Web-site expansion bolstered his summertime success as well. “I have no complaints about the summer,” he said.

Tim Haas is the general manger of the Garden of the Gods Trading Post. He said business bounced back last year from 9/11. “We were strong last year, and this year we at least maintained our numbers from last year,” he said. “It’s not an exact count, but we were about dead even through June, July and August with regard to the number of guests. But the folks must have been spending more this year because we were up about 5 percent in revenues, and Labor Day was very strong.”

The director of operations at the Garden of the Gods Visitors Center is Bonnie Frum, and her observations about the summer tourism were tempered. “We had a satisfactory summer, as far as tourism, but Labor Day was fabulous.”

Zoo visitors are down year-to-date by 1.2 percent, said Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Marketing Director Marketing Director Deb Muehleisen. “Record cool and wet weather combined with a soft economy severely impacted attendance at most area attractions,” Meuhleisen said. “Out-of-state tourism was up, which slightly negated the attendance of local visitors.”

The mixed reviews were based on varying factors, Sullivan said. But there are certain fixed variables that affect summer tourism, regardless of the economy and the weather. Drive-to visitors are vital to the area.

“We began the summer with a fragile national economy and high gas prices, and we know that 85 percent of the 6 million visitors to our area drive here,” he said. Another force that has driven local tourism is direct competition from Colorado’s mountain towns. “Ski destinations are spending more money on their summer product,” Sullivan said.

“Steamboat Springs applied their vendor fees to a summer tourism promotional campaign. I am amazed at how much activity is going on in the mountain resorts. Every weekend there is a blues festival or a jazz festival or a swing festival.

“Overall, tourism this summer wasn’t stellar or exceptional, but it was good.”

- Marylou.Doehrman@csbj.com