Sputtering economy might actually boost local tourism

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About 2,000 one-way tickets, up or down, are sold each year for trips on the Cog railway. (Submitted photo)

About 2,000 one-way tickets, up or down, are sold each year for trips on the Cog railway. (Submitted photo)

Because of poor economic conditions, tourism in the Pikes Peak region could increase this summer season.

Local marketing and chamber of commerce folks are optimistic that tourist visits will hold steady compared to last year — or even increase slightly — as Coloradoans opt for staying closer to home.

“People will still be taking vacations,” said Leslie Lewis, executive director of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.

In fact, “they may come here and stay longer — there’s so much to do in this region — rather than traveling to several places,” Lewis said.

Just in time, Manitou’s penultimate construction phase, 5A, which includes a roundabout at Ruxton and Manitou avenues, will be completed by Memorial Day — the official start of the tourist season.

Visitor inquiries are comparable to last year at this time, Lewis said. Two weeks ago the city had “quite a few” spring break visitors from Oklahoma and Texas, while this week, even tourists from as far away as Florida are in Manitou during their spring break.

There will plenty for locals and visitors to do in Manitou, with free performance art seven days per week this summer.

“And the mid-week Farmers Market will have more produce and more organic produce — because they’re working with urban farmers this year,” Lewis said.

The Colorado Wine Festival — an event that drew 1,500 visitors last year — already has 24 state wineries registered to pour samples of wine.

Further up the mountain, at the Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway, general manager Spencer Wren said that “gorgeous” weather during January, February and March helped the Cog Railway, although summer will be “challenging.”

“I think people will take shorter vacations and not spend as much,” Wren said. “If we can stay within a single digit loss of last year, I’d be happy.”

He expects that people will stay home (in Colorado), but “get out and drive down from Denver for a mini-escape.”

About 2,000 of the Cog tickets sold each year are one-way, up or down.

This winter, the Cog had a larger percentage than usual of local people riding the train, including runners training for the Pikes Peak Ascent or Pikes Peak Marathon.

And in the Springs, “Savings with an Altitude” is this year’s slogan at Experience Colorado Springs, the convention and visitors bureau, said Amy Long, vice president of marketing and membership.

Because of forecasts that many Americans will stay close to home for vacations, Experience Colorado Springs is advertising more heavily than usual in-state — especially north of Denver, on the Western slope and in southern Colorado.

“We’re hopeful business will remain steady or be up in the single digits over last year. Eighty-five percent of our market is the drive market,” Long said. “So, if we can keep gas around $2 to $2.50 per gallon that will be very helpful for us.”

Visitor guide requests were up during February “a lot higher than last year,” she said. And once people order visitor guidebooks, “they’re inspired to come here for a last-minute weekend getaway.”

Bonnie Frum, director of operations at Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center, said she’s cautiously optimistic that this season will be about the same as last year.

“Most of our visitors come from Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas,” Frum said. “We think Texans will still want to come here to get out of the heat.”

As Americans are watching their pocketbooks, the Pikes Peak region — with so many free things to do outdoors at state parks, and in Manitou and Colorado Springs — might have a pleasant tourist season, despite clouds on the financial market horizon.

And gas prices are about $2.25 per gallon less than last June, so car vacations can make the economy seem not so bad after all.

“So much of our business is from the rubber tire market,” Wren said.