Memorial weekend hints of stronger season ahead

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The local summer tourism season appears to be off to a great start.

Tourism activity over the Memorial Day weekend in the Pikes Peak region was up substantially over last year.

Most of the 25 tourist attractions that are members of Pikes Peak Country Attractions had double-digit increases in attendance over the holiday weekend, ranging from 13 to 17 percent.

Michele Carvell, executive director of PPCA, said the recovering economy helped, as did better weather despite high winds on May 29.

Before the weekend, AAA had estimated some 32 million Americans would travel for the holiday — up 5 percent from 2009. Lower gas prices were cited as a reason.

Carvell said more good news is expected. Requests for visitors’ guides have increased, and “demand for online tickets is way up,” she said.

Ticket purchases are up from out-of-state visitors, as well, including those from Canada.

“It just feels different this year, like a pent-up demand,” she said. “We’re busy helping people plan their vacations; it’s great.”

“The unpredictables are always out there, such as the price of gas and the weather,” Carvell continued. “But the things we do control, I’m feeling really good about this year.”

At The Broadmoor, the resort was close to sold-out over the holiday weekend, primarily with leisure travelers, especially from Denver. “The resort was bustling; it was a fun weekend,” said John Washko, vice president of sales and marketing at The Broadmoor.

Reservations at the resort are already up from last year at this time, he said.

At Cheyenne Mountain Resort, John Branciforte, director of sales and marketing, said the resort was nearly filled to capacity with leisure and group business over the holiday. The International Rett Syndrome Foundation brought 225 people to the resort, including parents, children, doctors and caregivers.

In May, the resort saw 39 percent occupancy growth, year-over-year.

“That (corporate) purse string is opening up more,” Branciforte said.

Experience Pikes Peak, the area’s convention and visitors bureau, said its “Savings with an Altitude” campaign has helped.

For the remainder of the season, several large sporting events — including the Mastercraft Pro Wakeboard competition in July, and the Assault on the Peak bicycle ride in August — are already driving up hotel reservations, said Chelsy Murphy, the PR manager for the CVB.

“A good Memorial weekend is usually a positive indicator,” said Dianne Perea, marketing and communications manager for Pikes Peak attractions. “It could also mean people are starting to travel earlier. Overall, it looks as if this will be a strong summer.”

Organizer of Territory Days in Old Colorado City would agree; the event saw record attendance this year, with about 130,000 people turning out.

More than 6 million people visit the area each year, making tourism the third-largest industry in Colorado Springs, generating more than $1 billion in travel-related revenue in El Paso County.

Up, up and away

Colorado Springs is home to half a dozen military installations and hundreds of government contractors — not to mention CEOs and executives.

And the Washington D.C. area is home to numerous government contracting headquarters, such as the U.S. government National Aeronautics & Space Administration and the District of Columbia Government Office of Contracting and Procurement.

Now there is a bridge, or skyway, if you will, between the cities.

The Colorado Springs Municipal Airport’s inaugural flight to Washington Dulles International Airport took off on its inaugural flight Wednesday morning.

This gives business, military and leisure travelers daily access to the D.C. area on a non-stop flight.

The United Airlines flight, operated by SkyWest Airlines, departs at 8:55 a.m. The return flight leaves the D.C. area at 6:55 p.m. and arrives in Colorado Springs at 8:32 p.m.

The CRJ-600, regional jet, was filled to load-capacity for the initial flight.

“(The new flight) will become a great conduit and escalator to … connect our business community and chamber with the likes of Washington, D.C.,” said Terry Sullivan, CEO of Experience Pikes Peak, the convention and visitors bureau.

The community’s last non-stop service to the Washington D.C. area was in 1997.

Rebecca Tonn can be reached at rebecca.tonn@csbj.com or 719-329-5229. Friend her on Facebook.