Winter tourism a time to rest; some attractions staying busy

Tourism in the winter may look like tourism of any day in the summer for some attractions. Many area attractions remain open, albeit with fewer tourists.

Yet for others, tourism may look more like a hockey tournament filling hotel rooms during the shoulder season.

“We promote more than 55 activities,” said Chelsy Murphy, communications director at the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Pikes Peak Cog Railway runs year-round (weather permitting), and the Pioneers Museum, Garden of the Gods, Olympic Training Center, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Cave of the Winds and others remain open.

“January was really good. December was really good” for sales at the Garden of the Gods Trading Post, said Dave Maddox, general manager. “February has been a little slow because of the bad weather.” January sales were 10 percent higher than January 2013, he added.

“We had issues last year with the fires and floods. Once that was all done, people started coming back,” Maddox said.

Hotel occupancy down

According to the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association, hotel rooms in Colorado Springs during December reached an occupancy rate of 37.2 percent. Those are the most recent figures the association had available.

That figure compares with 54.4 percent occupancy in Denver, 38 percent in Grand Junction, 45.4 percent in Durango, 45.5 percent in Fort Collins and 50.6 percent statewide.

Hotels in Colorado Springs collect 2 percent tax on lodging properties and 1 percent on rental cars. Two-thirds of collections are distributed annually to the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We see leisure travelers year-round,” Murphy said. “It’s so hard to really understand who’s here and when.”

Events such as the just-concluded Presidents’ Day Hockey Tournament fill hotels and “when they’re not competing, they’re filling up the attractions,” Murphy said.

Other events that will help the CVB this year include the Rocky Mountain Rampage, a skateboarding event at Memorial Park; the U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships, a team event at Colorado Springs World Arena; car shows, dog shows and more, she added.

The U.S. Olympic Complex sees heavy foot traffic, she said, and during Olympic years, there’s even more interest there with visitors wanting to see where potential Olympians train in various sports.

The National Retail Federation reported that consumer shopping and spending leveled off post-holiday during the beginning of the year because of severe weather in some parts of the country. The NRF said January retail sales, excluding car dealers, gas stations and restaurants, were flat seasonally, adjusted month-to-month, yet increased 3 percent unadjusted year over year.

“Harsh winter weather is masking the performance of the broader economy,” NRF economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Extreme temperatures and severe ice and snow are making it increasingly difficult to assess if the retail sales slowdown is temporary or a telling sign of a longer-lasting weakness. … No one can jump to any solid conclusion until we shovel out of the snow.”

Winter tourism this year has been “decent,” said Cave of the Winds assistant general manager Daniel Carey. “The only thing that hurts us is in the cold weather.” When too much snow and ice form on the road leading to Cave of the Winds, the attraction closes, he said. The caves remain at 54 degrees year-round.

Ghost Town Museum does very well in the winter, said Ryan Cole, executive director of Pikes Peak Country Attractions. The Ghost Town Museum is located on 21st Street in west Colorado Springs, just off U.S. Highway 24.

“All of our museums are very busy in the weekends,” he said. “Because it is Colorado and we have 300 days of sunshine, a lot of our outdoor attractions do really well as well.”

For example, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway still shuttles people up the mountain in the wintertime.

“We are only open on weekends in January and February,” said Railway General Manager Spencer Wren. “We will go back seven days a week starting March 1.”

“We’ve had some really harsh weather,” Wren said. “That has hurt us. We’re flat to down with previous winters.” He added, however, that having too much snow is preferred to drought conditions.

Year-round rodeo fans

Sara Tadken, Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy marketing director, estimated between 1,000 and 1,500 people visit the attraction in January and February, many of whom visited Denver during the National Western Stock Show in January.

This number compares with 7,000 visitors during June, July and August.

“We get a lot of drive-bys [from throughout the U.S.] because we have good highway signage,” Tadken said.

Winter visitors tend to be from Colorado, she said.