2005 Gas prices take toll on tourism

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Advance reservations at Colorado ski resorts have seen double-digit increases compared to last year.

High gas prices and unemployment kept travelers at home during the summer tourism season, but the city is now armed with new traveler research and additional tax money for local attractions.

Colorado Springs experienced a lackluster summer season, according to a summer tourism survey report from Experience Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak, formerly the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Business owners who responded to the survey rated the summer season as either fair or good compared to last year, with only a few reporting excellent performances.

The summer season started on a positive note with a 2.33-percent increase in lodge and auto-rental tax revenue, but the numbers seesawed each month, according to the report.

After March’s single-digit increase, April’s collections fell 12.9 percent. They rose 16.5 percent in May.

In June, collections fell 7.5 percent, but climbed nearly 8 percent in July. August posted an increase of 11.8 percent

According to the CVB, tourism is Colorado Springs’ third largest industry. An average of 6.2 million people visit the area each year and contribute more than $1 billion to the local economy.

Tourism need: air service

Visitors to Colorado Springs are educated, affluent and travel savvy, according to the results of a marketing and advertising survey commissioned by Experience Colorado Springs at Pike’s Peak.

But the survey also pointed out an area of concern: air service.

More than 70 percent of respondents indicated that air service affected their choice of where to travel.

Southwest Airlines will start offering flights out of Denver in January. Colorado Springs had hoped to entice the airline to offer service here.

The survey – the first to focus on the area since 1997 – followed a summer of heavy print and television advertising aimed at bringing leisure visitors to the Springs. According to the survey, the ads made an impression on families.

More than 1,500 people responded to the first phase; 500 people responded to the second phase.

Ski slopes face busy winter

The slopes will be crowded this season – at least at Colorado’s destination ski resorts, where advance reservations have increased each month since August.

According to the Mountain Travel Research Program, a resource information business that gathers and analyzes data at the nation’s ski resorts, Colorado resorts saw an increase of 15 percent in advance reservations in August. The number fell to 4 percent above last year’s after the hurricanes in September, and October’s report also was 4 percent above last year.

Most of the advance reservations for the winter Colorado tourism season come from international travelers. With poor snowfall last winter in some of Canada’s most popular resorts, Colorado is positioned to see huge gains in travel as people seek the best places to ski.

Travelers from Colorado Springs will feel the effects of the increased numbers of overnight visitors to the state’s resorts. Deals for ski passes and one-day ski trips will be scarce, he said.

Lodging, rental tax funds increase

Colorado Springs tourist attractions will receive more money from the city, as lodging taxes increased for the second year in a row, said Shelly Morgan, sales tax supervisor for Colorado Springs.

Known as LART, or Lodging and Rental Tax, the revenue consists of a 2-percent hotel tax and a 1-percent rental car tax. The money is collected by the city and is used to maintain and upgrade attractions, such as Pikes Peak and other city attractions, Morgan said.

Revenue for 2005 is projected to reach $3,652,309, according to information from the city. Colorado Springs is experiencing a shift back to pre-9/11 visitor levels, said Jim Cassidy, chief financial officer for Experience Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak. The 2004 increase ended a three-year slump in tourism revenue.

Experience Colorado Springs awards

Experience Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak presented three awards during its annual dinner in December.

More than 300 guests and members of the association were treated to a presentation by John Fielder, author of “Colorado Then and Now, Part II,” which is based on new photo pairs of W.H. Jackson’s historic shots, coupled with his images of the same location.

Terry Sullivan, president of Experience Colorado Springs, presented the 2005 Tourism Industry Employee of the Year awards.

Winners:

  • Scott Marble, winner of the management category, Cheyenne Mountain Resort
  • Bonnie Kish, runner up in the management category, Doubletree Hotel, Colorado Springs World Arena
  • Carol Johnson, winner in the non-management category, Franciscan Retreat Center
  • Sylvia Johnson, runner up in the non-management category, Cheyenne Mountain Resort. “It is a great honor to be able to recognize these individuals for their contributions to their employers, as well as to the tourism industry of the Pikes Peak region,” Sullivan said.

Airport recruits ambassadors

Travelers who want to learn more about Colorado Springs will have some assistance: volunteer ambassadors at the airport will answer questions, direct travelers and offer a helping hand.

The airport information center at the Colorado Springs Airport underwent a facelift in 2005, and the remodeling included more space for maps and brochures. The revamped information booth is near the old booth’s spot close to the escalators on the lower level.

Airport visitors will see the blue-and-khaki clad ambassadors Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

A look ahead…

The 200th anniversary of Zebulon Pike’s expedition in the region will bring an opportunity to tap an underserved tourism niche, said Dianne Perea, marketing and public relations director for Experience Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak.

“Heritage tourists could be a big market for us,” Perea said. “And this is a great opportunity for tourism businesses to reach those tourists. Studies show that heritage tourists spend more and stay longer.”

Heritage tourists are visitors who travel to an area based on its history and culture.

According to a survey of potential visitors conducted after an active summer advertising campaign, heritage experiences are important to the group of people most likely to visit Colorado Springs.

Three attractions in Colorado Springs are included in the top-10 list of heritage sites in the state: Manitou Springs, Pikes Peak and the Air Force Academy.

Experience Colorado Springs is spearheading a community-wide effort to commemorate the Pike anniversary.

Amy.Gillentine@csbj.com