A summer of big events filled hotel rooms, had people spending money in local restaurants and stores and helped the Colorado Springs tourism industry gain some upward traction in 2011.
Local attractions had record-breaking crowds in June and July and special events, which brought in at least a half million spectators and participants to town, pumped in millions to the local economy.
So far in 2011, the Lodging and Auto Rental Tax collection is up 7.11 percent over last year. And, hotels have reported strong October and November occupancy rates as they launched an aggressive campaign to get more of the U.S. conventions and group meetings pie, said Doug Price, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.
LART collections for 2011 are expected to be $3.9 million, which still lags behind 2007 — the peak collection year — when the city collected $4.2 million. But, there was enough of a gain in 2011 to feel hopeful and to celebrate, local tourism experts say.
“This year will clearly be up over 2010,” Price said. “It’s been a year of positives — it’s a real comeback.”
It was a year of change, high honors and a new city slogan.
In January, Price, a senior V.P. with Destination Marketing Association International in Washington, D.C., replaced CEO Terry Sullivan, who was 20 years at the CVB tourism helm.
In February, the Springs was named one of 12 Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation — it helped the city grab a larger share of heritage tourism visitors and dollars than in years past.
“When people think of us they think of the mountains,” Price said. “But, we have lots of great historic treasures here.”
And, in November — after years of fits and starts — a Mayor’s Branding Taskforce announced a new city slogan, “Live it Up” coupled with a logo of purple mountains. This month, after backlash to the logo, the taskforce said it would scrap the graphic and let local designers submit their designs. A new logo is expected to be chosen in March.
Meanwhile, the new city slogan intends to help position the city as a front-running community for economic rebound and the taskforce has high expectations that the slogan and logo will be used in the marketing campaigns of local businesses, tourist destinations and create a city identity.
“One of the highlights is really being involved in a collaborative process that really has put us in a position to create our own brand, as opposed to having it be created by others outside Colorado Springs,” Price said. “We are in a position to market our destination to visitors and businesses but also to our residents.”
Across the state, hotel occupancy was up about 4 percent in 2011 over 2010 while room rates stayed flat, with just a $3 increase, on average. June, July and August were the busiest months.
In Colorado Springs, there are 14,000 rooms available, which include bed and breakfast rooms. In July, hotel occupancy was nearly 90 percent.
It would be like a dream if all months were like July of this year, said Michele Carvell, executive director of Pikes Peak Country Attractions.
“We would have smashed all records,” she said. “July was an epic month.”
Overall, attractions had an up and down year, Carvell said. Weather, gas prices, a drought in Texas and the overall economy “all go into a witch’s brew and you end up with just OK,” she said.
For a third year, Pikes Peak Country Attraction sold online Pikes Peak Plus Passes, one ticket price for multiple locations. In June and July, the online pass sales were up 30 percent over last year, Carvell said.
“We do a daily report — it was incredible to watch — each was beating the day before,” she said.
The summer’s big events will likely play out in the coming year, she said, as people remember seeing the red rocks of the Garden of the Gods Park in the backdrop of the USA Pro Cycling Tour.
“I expect to see a higher demand in January for our Visitors’ Guide,” she said.
It may have been one of the biggest sports summers in Colorado Springs history, said Mike Moran, senior media consultant with the Colorado Springs Sports Corp.
“The significant events that gather international attention and prestige — it’s incalculable what those events do for the sports image,” he said.
Colorado Springs hosted some of the country’s biggest sporting events including the U.S. Women’s Open at The Broadmoor, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge, which organizers claim attracted more than 1 million spectators along the 11-city route.
“The piece that is hard to measure is the pride of our local citizens getting a chance to come out and see this in our town’s backyard,” he said.
The coming year will be another big sports year for Colorado Springs. The road up Pikes Peak will be paved. It’s a big deal when racing cars and motorcycles in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Moran said. Already, there is a record-number of early signups.
It’s going to be an Olympic year with the games in London. A lot of eyes will be on the U.S. Olympic Training Center and U.S. athletes training in Colorado Springs.
“That makes it special,” Price said.
And, the USA Cycling Challenge race will come through Colorado Springs in August. CVB officials estimated that the race had a $2 million economic impact on the Springs, while race organizers said the race had an $83.5 million economic impact on the state.
“It will be even better,” Moran said about the 2012 cycling race. “There will be small gaps that will be closed and we will have more time to publicize it and get people ready.”
Price is hopeful that in the coming year, the Manitou Incline will finally be “legal” and the CVB can start marketing the hiking trail with the region’s other attractions. “Talk about Live it Up!” he said.
Next year will not be without challenges, Price said. In November, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that federal agencies reduce spending, including travel expenses, by 20 percent or $4 billion.
“For a destination that relies a lot on government and military travel, that could have a ripple effect that will be very interesting,” Price said.
National experts are predicting slight increases in occupancy and room rates and local experts are making similar predictions for Colorado Springs — hoping that occupancy rates jump from an average of 64 percent to 67 percent and room rates increase by about $3.
Full recovery will be a slow but the city is on path to make bigger gains in 2012, said John Branciforte, Cheyenne Mountain Resort director of sales and marketing. Already January bookings at Cheyenne Mountain are higher than last January, he said.
Hoteliers are working closely with the CVB and Pikes Peak Country Attractions to promote city-wide attractions and there is a more collaborative effort with the Colorado Springs Airport, he said.
“We have to carry some of the burden to promote the city,” Branciforte said. “We are headed in the right direction.”