CVB hopes to reinvigorate LART with two new grants

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For the first time this year, sales tax collections in Colorado Springs are down.

But tourism officials are speedily working to get travelers to the city this fall to make up for summer losses during the Waldo Canyon fire.

July’s sale taxes were down nearly 4 percent from the same time last year; but the Lodger’s and Auto Rental Tax took the biggest hit, down 16.41 percent.

In some ways, officials expected the drop. The Waldo Canyon fire started in the Pikes Peak region in late June, and national coverage showed homes in flames in the Mountain Shadows area.

Overall sales taxes and LART collections did not show a dip in June. It’s a different story, now – in the fire’s aftermath. Hoteliers and bed- and-breakfast inn owners said people cancelled reservations through the rest of the summer.

“Obviously, it’s down, and we are sad that it’s down,” said Steve Ducoff, Pikes Peak Lodging Association executive director. “There is some initiative with the CVB to promote the area for last-minute travel to help as much as we can.”

Massive marketing efforts by the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau are underway in hopes that some of the fall leisure travelers will spend some nights –  and some money – in the Springs. This month, the CVB won a $100,000 grant from the Economic DevelopmentAgency to pump up its marketing effort for the rest of this year and even for efforts toward the 2013 summer season.

And the CVB learned today that it received $10,000 from the Colorado Tourism Office’s Regional Grant Program, said Amy Long, CVB vice president of marketing and membership.

“While the dollar awards are smaller with this program, there is a lot of competition from other DMOs and organizations throughout the state who all have wonderful projects that they are proposing,” Long said.

Long worked with Annie Oatman-Gardner, Pikes Peak Regional Director for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett’s office on the $100,000 federal grant. They had to work quickly, Long said. The money had to be granted by the end of September and the CVB wanted to move on its advertising campaign.

The CVB had already committed to a $100,000 “Colorado Springs Welcome Back” campaign. They CVB also worked to collect matching funds from local industry. To date, local businesses have contributed $70,000 to the marketing and advertising campaign to welcome back travelers to the region.

“We really had the program very nicely developed when we started looking into the grant,” Long said.

That meant the CVB could offer to match the federal money, something that increased the chances of the organization receiving the money.

The Welcome Back campaign was rolled out about two weeks after the fire and the CVB spent $125,000 online advertising and $75,000 in traditional print advertising. They advertised in Denver, Kansas City, Dallas and other areas in Texas. They hit radio, bus stops, billboards and airports and bought ads in AARP and football magazines in Texas.

The AARP magazine generated 4,000 leads – meaning that many people filled out a card requesting more information about Colorado Springs. That’s a good sign, Long said.

“It’s really, really good for one issue in a well-defined region,” Long said. “We like magazines when they can provide leads.”

Typically, the CVB concentrates its $900,000 marketing and advertising budget on campaigns to get tourists here in the summer. In the fall, the CVB scales back the spending and targets leisure, more mature travelers, who might be interested in history and heritage.

They’ll spend some of the budget on attracting groups, associations, corporations, sports organizers, and tour group operators year-round, she said.

The CVB will soon begin campaigns for summer 2013 and spend the federal grant money. As for now, there are some indications that August sales tax and LART collections will be better than July. The August calendar was filled with high-profile sporting events that included the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and the USA Pro Challenge.

“In conversations with hoteliers, we are optimistic about August,” Long said. “And September and October are quite good.”

Right now, LART is down 1.31 percent year to date. Long is hopeful that the massive “Welcome Back” campaigns will bring the numbers back to even –  or possibly a little higher than last year.