As the warmer months roll in and families venture out on vacation, local organizations hope Colorado Springs will be a top destination choice — and so far, the numbers look promising.
With recent kudos, including Trip Advisor awarding Pikes Peak with its 2016 Certificate of Excellence and Colorado Springs ranking No. 5 on U.S. News & World Report’s 2016 Best Places to Live, operators of local attractions said they’re projecting higher sales during the next three months.
The awards are important for marketing and awareness of the city’s attractions, say officials at the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“Recent recognitions like U.S. News & World Report’s help bring more attention and exposure to the fact that we are an amazing place to vacation,” said Chelsy Offutt, communications director for the CVB. “Tourism is indeed a massive portion of our community’s economy year-round [and third largest employer] and there is an influx of travelers in the summer season.”
Colorado Springs draws 6 million visitors annually, and local hotel owners and attraction managers are hoping to increase those numbers during this year’s peak season.
Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax collections are 21.6 percent above this time last year, Offutt said. It’s an important number, showing that even in the city’s off-season, visitors are still coming to the Springs.
“This report is our best indication of traveler spending in the city,” she said.
And the Rocky Mountain Lodging Association estimates occupancy in the region’s hotels has increased 9.6 percent from 2015’s numbers so far this year. Lower gas prices, increased consumer confidence and more disposable income are trends contributing to the city’s tourism success, Offutt said.
“The CVB continues to partner heavily with the Colorado State Tourism Office on campaigns and promotions, marketing the Colorado Springs Airport online and in print, and selling the destination to event and meeting planners to drive interest and traffic,” she said.
The 100th anniversary of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro and the planned U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame have also given Colorado Springs traction with tourists, Offutt said.
“Our attractions and properties continue to invest in the region, making it an even more desirable location for a getaway or event,” she said. “Riding the amazing wave of 2015, we’re enthusiastic that the trend continues into 2016.”
Summer revenue for the hotel industry harkens to the basic economic formula of supply and demand, said Zan Wagner, general manager of the Radisson Hotel and vice president of the Pikes Peak Lodging Association.
Hotels make the most money by maximizing rates during peak demand periods, he said.
“Summertime means more demand, and as rooms become more scarce, we are able to charge a premium for our remaining inventory,” Wagner said.
And rates can change two to three times every day as inventory becomes even more scarce, he added.
“While I have seen demand grow last year, and hopefully this year, it seems that we continue to see more rooms come into the supply,” he said.
The number of new hotel rooms in the region concerns Wagner because tourism is so closely tied with uncontrollable events — such as a fire, flood or terrorism — that could have a severe impact on the industry when combined with an oversupply of hotel rooms.
“We continue to have sold-out periods, so that is great news, but they appear to be fewer and farther between,” he said.
Although it’s too early to tell if summer sales will surpass last year, Wagner said indicators predict that local lodging should see some improvement.
The North Pole
On June 16, the North Pole, Home of Santa’s Workshop, will celebrate its 60th birthday.
Located west of Colorado Springs off U.S. Highway 24 in Cascade, the business serves as a vintage family-centered theme park and has been owned by the same family for three generations.
“We’ve kept the park looking new, but have stuck with its nostalgic theme,” said Austin Lawhorn, manager and buyer at the park.
With the start of the summer season, the business beefs up its staff to 120, operating the park seven days a week.
“In June, we’ll see roughly 700 to 1,000 visitors a day, toward the end of July about 1,300 to 1,400 and through August approximately 1,200,” Lawhorn said.
Rain or shine, North Pole employees work at least five days a week unless severe weather or an emergency strikes.
“We run the same staff every day in summer because when you hire people, they count on getting in hours at their job, just as we count on them to be here for the job,” she said.
Although park attendance decreases by September, Lawhorn said season pass holders and local visitors keep the business afloat.
And although the attraction generates some revenue from retail and food sales, general admission fuels its main income.
“We’re prepared for another good year,” she said. “We’re seeing a steady increase in traffic, sales are on par with attendance and people are spending the same amount if not more per family.”
According to Lawhorn, a snowflake maze will open this season, offering kids interactive Christmas activities with LED lights, characters and a Christmas countdown clock.
“I don’t think you need the craziest attraction to provide families a good place to make memories,” she said. “There aren’t many family-owned parks these days, and places like Six Flags and Disneyland always have long lines. I’m happy that even though we’ve evolved over time, we’re still offering kids the same experience we did when we first opened.”
Lawhorn said she doesn’t think airline security delays will affect the business because the park is more of a road-trip destination.
“As long as gas prices are steady, I think we’ll have another strong summer,” she said.
Cave of the Winds
Among Colorado Springs’ natural wonders, including Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak, Cave of the Winds offers cave tours, a 1,200-foot zipline and a popular ride called the Terror-Dactyl that swings visitors 200 feet into the canyon at 100 miles per hour.
“Summer gets busy. It’s not unusual to have 70 tours around July 4, and we don’t anticipate this summer being any different,” said manager John Burgess.
Cave of the Winds employs about 50 tour guides, increasing its staff June through August.
“Our sales are pretty steady year-to-year, but flow up and down with the economy,” Burgess said. “I think what draws people are its gorgeous views and unique qualities each cave offers.”
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
Located in Colorado Springs, the only mountain zoo in the United States is “operationally sound” after reaching a record number of 750,659 visitors for its 2015-2016 fiscal year, according to public relations manager Erica Meyer.
“We’re really proud to be one of Colorado Springs’ attractions,” she said. “I feel like the community and state view the zoo as a gem, and as a fun and educational place to visit. I think we offer a setting that allows families to spend quality time together and believe we play an important role in strengthening relational bonds.”
For the last fiscal year, about 55 percent of zoo visitors were from the Pikes Peak region, about 18 percent were from surrounding areas including Pueblo and Denver, and the remaining 27 percent were visitors from out of state or foreign countries, according to Meyer.
The zoo doubles its staff during peak seasons, including the summer months and around spring break.
“We maintain about 100 staff year-round and hire additional staff and interns when approaching busier seasons,” she said. “We also increase our number of animal happenings, training and enrichment demonstrations during peak seasons.”
Meyer said two-thirds of the zoo’s operational revenue comes from general admission and membership fees. The zoo doesn’t receive any tax money and relies on donor dollars for improvements and exhibit upgrades, she said.
“We definitely rely on peak seasons to help us care for our animals and staff,” Meyer said.