Look at the comparative numbers, showing how little the Pikes Peak region spends to market its tourism industry in relation to other cities, and one can’t help but cringe.
As you see in the accompanying news story, the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau has decided to turn anecdotal information into solid statistical data, setting the stage for some kind of campaign to enhance the CVB’s funding.
It’s sure to produce a strong, convincing case. Our local commitment to promoting tourism pales in comparison to other cities, including many of similar size in the West — Spokane, Wash.; Tucson, Ariz.; Albuquerque, N.M., and Salt Lake City.
Not just because those cities invest heavily in their tourism efforts, but because we don’t. Our Lodgers and Auto Rental Tax, aka LART, is so small (2 percent for lodging, just 1 percent for car rentals), it’s embarrassing — not just the amount, but the fact it hasn’t changed since first being instituted in 1980.
Beyond that, we should start this discussion by acknowledging the value of our tourism. It’s among the best — and least expensive — options we have for making our area economy less dependent on the military for decades to come. We also will be needing more resources to let the nation and world know about what Colorado Springs will be adding, from the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame to a new Pikes Peak Summit House, science and children’s museums, an Air Force Academy visitors center and more.
This week, as the Colorado Springs CVB rolled out the results of its market study conducted by Tourism Economics of Philadelphia, it was instantly clear that the argument for more funding is indeed strong. But the specific strategy isn’t so clear, mainly because any LART tax increase would require voter approval.
To make a LART ballot issue more palatable, that strategy probably will have to include some additional tactics, and they’re already being considered.
One is to collect LART taxes from tourist attractions, as many locales already do (including, by the way, Manitou Springs). You can be sure that will become part of the equation, and it’ll be more attractive because so much of that revenue will come from visitors, not locals.
Another ingredient, which would appear even more essential, would be to create a regional marketing entity to include El Paso, Teller and Fremont counties, with some level of tourism tax coming from all three to help promote the Pikes Peak region. As it is now, the Colorado Springs LART is the only tax funding for our CVB, even though the CVB receives some membership dues from businesses in the Springs, Manitou Springs and the other counties, including Royal Gorge/Cañon City, Cripple Creek and Woodland Park.
Clearly, most visitors to attractions in Teller and Fremont counties are staying in Colorado Springs, so it makes sense to have them be part of the funding solution as well.
It might not be a large percentage, but even a small dedicated amount could help convince voters to approve a LART increase here.
There’s one other issue about regional tourism, though it wasn’t mentioned by the CVB or the Tourism Economics study in any way.
What about Pueblo?
Granted, it doesn’t have the kinds or numbers of attractions that we have, but Pueblo did secure Colorado Regional Tourism Act funding for enhancements to its Riverwalk, Pueblo Convention Center and other related projects.
You can see Pikes Peak from much of Pueblo, but for some reason it hasn’t been regarded as part of the Pikes Peak region.
Colorado Springs and Pueblo have been working together in other ways, such as in economic development and perhaps rebranding our airport as more of a Southern Colorado facility.
But not tourism, though it’s true that many thousands of driving tourists coming from the south or southeast (Texas, Oklahoma, etc.) enter Pueblo first before continuing this way or west on U.S. 50 to Cañon City and beyond.
So what’s the point here?
Yes, it’s sensible for the Colorado Springs area or all of El Paso County to think about ways to provide more (even much more) funding for tourism, in particular for the Colorado Springs CVB.
But we have to be sure that the timing and strategy are choreographed very carefully, so it won’t threaten — or be threatened by — any movement toward a ballot issue for stormwater and/or infrastructure needs.
It also will help if the CVB can provide more specifics, when the time is right, on how those extra funds would be spent.
The more we consider tourism as a regional industry, with its own regional alliance and broader funding from outside the Springs, the more easily those political battles can be won.