Tight on cash, visitors bureau puts off added analysis

Every year since 2000, the Colorado Tourism Office has commissioned a report about the state’s tourism business from Longwoods International. So does Visit Denver, the city’s convention and visitors bureau.

Colorado Springs, on the other hand, doesn’t get its own report.

Why not? The easy answer is budget cutbacks. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Experience Pikes Peak, the local convention and visitors bureau, purchased a Pikes Peak-region specific report from Longwoods in 2008, said Amy Long, vice president of marketing and membership for the bureau.

“It’s a nice report to have,” Long said.

As long as the economy is vibrant, and they can afford to keep updating it. But when the economy’s soft, well, there’s already an awful lot of pertinent data in the statewide report.

“For that amount of money ($5,500), I don’t get that much more (data) that changes my approach,” Long said.

Also, often what applies to Colorado applies to Colorado Springs.

Not that having the latest data wouldn’t be nice.

To stay ahead of travel trends, the CVB does its own surveys to help it understand why people visit the area.

“They come here for family vacations, the scenic beauty, outdoor recreation and family activities — anything the kids would enjoy,” Long said.

As for the local budget, it didn’t help matters that 2009 was a dismal year for the tourism industry.

As has been reported, the bureau had to refund $342,494 in Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax, or LART, to the city because the LART underperformed projections once the down economy hit the region.

The bureau spent the year tightening its belt and found more efficient ways to do things. It did some of its graphics in-house, and hand-carried rather than shipped some of its vendor items to trade shows, began sending more items electronically rather than through mail, and used pre-sorted mail rather than first-class for visitor’s guides.

For the bureau’s 2010 budget, the city decided to allocate only 50 percent of its LART funds to the CVB, rather than the usual 67 percent.

The visitors bureau’s budget last year was $2.94 million, including funds from city, county and membership dues. Typically, LART is about 80 percent of its budget.

For 2010, the budget was pared to $2.34 million, so the bureau is watching where every dollar goes. Spending money on a report that isn’t vital isn’t high on its to-do list.

Yet “for research, I really need (a report) to be actionable,” Long said, which is why money has been preliminarily budgeted for research next year.

Longwoods next report isn’t available until about June or July 2011. So, depending on how this season goes, the bureau has time to decide whether it needs a more in-depth report.

This year already looks better and brighter.

Recently, the bureau received a $15,000 grant from the state to promote Pikes Peak Western Heritage Days.

Year-to-date, LART funds are up 4.97 percent over last year.

The Longwoods reports allow the bureau to track the shifts between consumer vs. business travel and the length of time visitors stay in the region.

This season, people are traveling again but looking for deals.

“We are in a time of such fluctuation, and 2009 was so tough on everybody,” Long said. “We have a lot of pent-up demand for travel.”

She said she expects there will be a “good quantity” of visitors, and that hotel occupancy will be good.

At the same time, hotel rates are low — which has a direct effect on the lodging tax.

It seems the wild card will be whether visitors spend more than last year at restaurants, and if they shop till they drop, and how long they’ll stay.

Here are a few tidbits gleaned from the 2009 Tourism Report.

Nineteen percent of urban day trips in Colorado are to Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

The number of days that overnight visitors stay in the state has steadily declined during the decade, from five nights in 2000 to four nights in 2009.

The state’s “appeal” has increased. In 2007, 75 percent of those surveyed strongly agreed that Colorado is “a place I would enjoy visiting again.” By 2009, that number increased to 86 percent.

The Springs nabs 13 percent of the state’s overnight leisure trips. Denver gets the lion’s share of overnight visits, at 48 percent, while Boulder, Fort Collins and Estes Park each get 8 percent.

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