Ryan Cole, executive director of Pikes Peak Country Attractions, missed being a Colorado Springs native by a few slim years, moving to the city when he was 5 years old. After college, the Cheyenne Mountain grad went to work in Kansas. Growing up in the Pikes Peak area, he said he took the beauty here for granted. After living in Kansas for nine years, he now more fully appreciates the natural wonders of the region — and uses that newfound appreciation to market local attractions to a national audience. Cole, now 34, does not regret his Kansas stint; that’s where he met his bride, Kelsi. They have a 2-year-old daughter Kennedy.
What are your primary duties?
We market the Pikes Peak region, using a plethora of different tactics ranging from online marketing to brochures. Pikes Peak Country Attractions owns 50 percent of the visitor’s guide with the Convention and Visitors Bureau. We’ve got two programs we’re actually running with Visit Colorado. Our job is telling people about the Pikes Peak region, getting them from their hotels to our attractions specifically. We represent 25 of the best attractions. They really are.
What are you doing now with Visit Colorado?
We’re promoting the Pikes Peak region on the Visit Colorado Instagram page. We’ve got the Hill Climb, which is a really big deal, but we have other attractions we’re trying to promote in an organic and truthful, non-sales-oriented way. Imagery tells the story on Instagram, and we don’t have to try that hard, which is great.
We’re working heavily right now with Seven Falls. They’ve got a lot they’re trying to reopen [after flooding in 2013 closed it]. When the time is go-time, Aug. 11, we’ll do the best we can to help them get people back in Seven Falls.
Talk about social media.
Our website is cool, but we’re spending a lot of time on Facebook. We have an organic audience there that we can relate to. On Facebook … there’s the TERROR-Dactyl Ride video, the new attraction at Cave of the Winds. You can see the videos of the Royal Gorge zip line that’s literally brand new. And the video tells the story a lot more than anything else could, especially the shot that shows you’re 1,200 feet above the ground. The only way to tell that story is with a selfie stick.
How has tourism been this year so far?
Based on the three conversations I’ve had with our owners in the past 24 hours, attendance figures are up, but also, visitors are spending more than they usually spend. It’s up exponentially, compared to where we’ve been in the past three years. I’ve heard figures from 10 to 25 percent, but those are from individual [attractions]. It’ll be cool to see [numbers for] the Royal Gorge this year because it’s all new.
What is the region’s biggest draw?
I’ll give you the top four, because they all work together: Garden of the Gods; Pikes Peak, whether it’s the highway or the Cog Railway; the Royal Gorge; and the craziest one to us, to be perfectly honest, from an online marketing Internet traffic perspective is actually Seven Falls, even though they’re not open. That’s why we get really excited about Seven Falls opening because when we look at the traffic, Seven Falls actually beats Royal Gorge in Internet traffic in terms of people looking for that attraction. And it hasn’t been open in a year and a half.
What is your biggest challenge?
Fires and floods. With fires and floods, the longer-term challenge is when it hits on a grand scale [in the media]. The challenge is that perception does become reality when we get such negative coverage, and we don’t want that.
Does PPCA benefit from LART (Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax) funds?
We don’t actively pursue LART funds right now.
Will it in the future?
It depends. Our board is looking at it. I’m on the LART Committee. We’re actively looking and trying to restructure LART right now because LART is a big deal. In the LART Committee we’re asking a lot of hard questions, like: Are the things we’re funding going back to tourist activities? Trust me, it’s just not fun to look at the Regional Business Alliance and say, “Hey, this money you’re receiving from LART? I’m sorry, you’re not going to get that any more.” But what we’re hoping to do, over a period of a couple of years is to create a playing field that is truthful and fair and what it should be, versus what it has been. We need it to drive tourism. We can’t live here without businesses; however, what this money is for is not for sustained business growth. It’s to get more people here, to drop more coin to grow the LART.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m really involved in ministry at the Calvary Worship Center. We get to get out and play at our attractions. It’s the best job ever, but I wouldn’t be doing anything different if I did not have this job because I genuinely love the Pikes Peak region.