Early tourism: About the same as last year

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Erica Hardcastle organizes items at Safron, a Manitou store that sells what it calls “Art to Wear.”

Erica Hardcastle organizes items at Safron, a Manitou store that sells what it calls “Art to Wear.”

Business owners in the lodging and tourist trades report varying degrees of success after the first month of summer tourism season in the Colorado Springs area.

Occupancy at the 54-room Cliff House at Pikes Peak was “great” over the Fourth of July weekend, said General Manager Paul York. “We’re at 80 percent for the month of July and climbing.”

In June, guests filled the Manitou Springs hotel to 83 percent, and that compares with 70 percent last year, he said. In June, the Cliff House’s average daily rate was $171, compared with $163 last year.

Last year, the Waldo Canyon fire required a full evacuation, creating a $100,000 budget hit, and “for a small property, that’s a lot of money,” York said.

During the Black Forest fire, while the property had no evacuations, fiery images associated with Colorado “definitely made some people nervous,” York said. The hotel lost reservations from people concerned about the air quality, York said.

The Cliff House had responded with an “aggressive” budget that “I didn’t think we could achieve; we’re blowing by it. We’re very happy.”

At Cheyenne Mountain Resort, leisure travelers are down from last year, said Lauren Williams, marketing manager. “We took a huge hit because of all the fires. People don’t want to go to a state that’s on fire.”

Williams reported a 5 percent hit from last year, with occupancy over the Fourth of July weekend “flat” at 78 percent. While the resort experienced cancellations, it offered open rooms for the victims of the Black Forest fire, Williams said.

Smoke, parking meters

This year’s Fourth of July, “we had smoke from that other fire, so it was so-so,” said John Eastham, owner of The Whickerbill at Manitou Springs. Also, new this year are fees for street parking in Manitou, and “we get a lot of complaints about the parking meters,” Eastham said.

The Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau determines performance by tax collections from lodging businesses and automobile rentals, said Director of Communications Chelsy Murphy.

Her most recent information was the April report based on March tax collections. Those numbers showed bookings up 1.91 percent, Murphy said.

“There are a lot of questions about the fire,” she said. The good news, she reported, is that of last year’s cancellations because of the Waldo Canyon fire, “all ended up re-booking.”

As for the rest of this summer, “We’re just looking to push hard,” by showcasing the area’s “blue skies and the beauty,” Murphy said.

“Right now, a lot of our attractions are at least even with last year, most of them a little above,” said Ryan Cole, executive director of Pikes Peak Country Attractions, which promotes Cave of the Winds, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Garden of the Gods Trading Post, Pikes Peak Cog Railway, North Pole-Santa’s Workshop and 20 others.

“We’re excited right now,” Cole said. “Summer’s back on track, a little bit. I say ‘a little bit’ because we’re hoping no other disasters happen, so we can just take care of guests. We’re very hopeful that this year can end up a little bit better than last year.”

Internet interference

But not everyone feels so upbeat.

“I’ve been here 10 years and in Colorado City 10 years, and this is the worst ever,” said Caroline Knox, owner of Whimsy Gifts, 735 Manitou Ave. “Plus, rent’s gone up 28 percent in two years.”

Whimsy Gifts closes its doors when the flash flood alarm goes off, and that creates lost sales, she said.

The biggest detriment this year, she said, is customers turning to the Internet.

“People take pictures and then buy on the Internet. Shoestores, bookstores, they’re all having the same problem,” Knox said.

Down the block, at Pikes Peak Chocolate & Ice Cream, “we had a good Fourth of July weekend,” said Emily Thomason, daughter of owner Laura Thomason. “It’s a little better, but not where we want it to be.”

At 720 Manitou Ave., Safron of Manitou store owner Safron Neusaenger reported diametrically opposed business seasons.

“Last year was the worst year I ever had” in 10 years of business, Neusaenger said. “And 2011 was the best year I ever had.”

This year, she needs to make up for last year, and “because of last year, I’m really, really struggling,” she said. “The numbers we have this year would cover everything if not for last year … I am nowhere near where I want to be.”