Lodgers cross fingers for coming season

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IMG_6092CCArea businesses catering to tourists really could use a good summer.

After two seasons marred by fires and floods, local hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts are waiting with bated breath to see whether their busiest months will bring boom or bust.

Many are cautiously optimistic that this year will curb a two-year slide of disappointing numbers.

The Cliff House

Paul York, general manager of The Cliff House at Pikes Peak in Manitou Springs, briefly summed up his feelings for the upcoming months:

“Encouraged. Hopeful.”

First and second quarters were up 20 and 14 percent, respectively, over last year, York said.

“We expect those numbers to grow,” he said of the upcoming tourist season. “Third quarter, so far, is up 15 percent over last year. Everything is looking good on the room side.”

York said he is more comfortable projecting profits from accommodations rather than the hotel’s fine dining operations because locals can make up a majority of the restaurant’s traffic.

“Food and beverage is more of a knuckle-biter,” York said, adding media attention during the Manitou floods last summer definitely didn’t help business. “It all depends on if the local news agencies bring in their trucks like last year. Every time there was projected rain, people weren’t inclined to come to Manitou and dine.”

York said wedding bookings are slightly up over last year, but corporate banquets have declined steadily over the past few seasons. He attributes that to a slower economy and corporations tightening their belts.

York said the hotel has made some repairs following minor flooding damage last year, including new first-floor carpeting and electrical work, as well as placing a debris net along Williams Canyon to help keep the culvert flowing smoothly. He said the hotel also is adding a floodgate system that is easy to deploy and will replace the role of the sandbags manually put into place during torrential rainstorms last year.

As for marketing this year, York said almost all efforts are concentrated online, and the frequent television ads from last season won’t be back.

“We won’t do a lot of local marketing,” he said. “We’ve decided not to do [television] going forward. We couldn’t really feel that impact, whereas Internet bookings are traceable. We can track the results.”

Hotel Eleganté

Ed Okvath, the general manager of the Hotel Eleganté on Circle Drive, said it’s early in the season and hard to know what the next few months will bring, but business this quarter has been better than projected.

Okvath’s projections are so high, he has hired 25 new employees over the past two weeks.

“We’ve had about a 3- to 5-percent gain [over last year],” Okvath said of the first two quarters. “Based on activity we’ve seen so far this year, and the numbers we had over spring break, so far we’ve had a very good year.”

Edgewood Inn

One of Woodland Park’s newest destinations, the Edgewood Inn, has endured a tough two years since officially opening in June 2012.

“The first year was a wash because of the Waldo Canyon fire,” owner Dean Buysse said, adding last year’s flooding didn’t help. Buysse said spring weddings are carrying them through the early part of this year and that the business is “starting to rebound.”

“Between weddings and corporate retreats, that’s what keeps the lights on,” he said of the five-room bed-and-breakfast.

He said the Edgewood has a few open weekends through the summer, but he’s comfortable they will fill.

Black Forest B&B

Ironically, Susan Redden had to wait for the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history to have one of her best years ever at the Black Forest Bed and Breakfast, 11170 Black Forest Road. The wedding destination, lodge and cabins, which lie a mile south of the burn scar, were totally booked for weddings last year and, according to Redden, only one had to be canceled.

The memory of the Black Forest fire, like the charred, crumbling trees left in its wake, is still relatively fresh, so Redden doesn’t see this year shaping up to be quite as lucrative as 2013. However, reservations are trickling in.

“I have several weddings booked this summer,” she said. “On May 30, I have a … cadet wedding. The week before we have three Air Force Academy families for graduation. Graduation kicks off summer season. I even had tenants this winter. There were two suites booked by loggers [removing] burnt trees along power lines.”

Redden said she’s expanded her marketing this summer to include a bridal registry online at mywedding.com, as well as out-of-market television spots and YouTube videos.

She’s also invested in infrastructure, remodeled some of the kitchens and bathrooms and updated the water heaters.

“It’s getting prettier and prettier and better and better,” she said.

Big picture

Chelsy Murphy, director of communications with the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the CVB is able to track lodging within city limits and vehicle rentals via the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax.

“This is an additional 2 percent tax charged to visitors on any overnight stay at a lodging property within city limits and an additional 1 percent tax from any rental car,” she explained. “The CVB currently receives two-thirds of these collections to then turn and market the region. In 2012, total LART collections for the year were down over 2011 by 0.45 percent. We found this pretty extraordinary given all the challenges and international media coverage of the Waldo fire.

“Looking at year end for 2013, we were actually up 2.17 percent compared to 2012, even better considering we faced another fire with floods,” she added. “So far, we have the collection rate of the LART in 2014 from just January and are currently up 1.39 percent. We are optimistic as we move into the season and hope to see this trend continue.”