Garden of the Gods is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Colorado Springs. The city draws more than 6 million visitors every year, mostly in the summer months.

Tourism is better than ever in Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region, evidenced by a record-setting year in 2016.

Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO Doug Price said Thursday afternoon that he was thrilled by the news.

“It’s really been about a four-year trajectory, both domestically throughout the United States and here in Colorado,” Price said in an interview. “Colorado is a bucket list state, from the 14ers to all the other things we have here. We’re fortunate.”

Tourism research firm Longwoods International issued an annual visitor profile study that revealed the Pikes Peak region welcomed 23 million visitors in 2016, up 12 percent over 2015 (20.5 million). More than half of visitors (57 percent) took a day trip, while 43 percent stayed overnight. These visitors spent $2.252 billion, which equates to $71 per second being infused into the Pikes Peak region’s economy. That’s 14 percent higher than 2015.

Price said that “visiting friends and relatives” is usually the No. 1 reason people come to the region. In 2016, that was the second reason (42 percent), with the top reason reported as a “marketable” trip (50 percent), meaning the visitor chose where they wanted to go, rather than having an obligation to visit a destination.

- Advertisement -

“This was the first time in years — maybe ever — that visiting friends and relatives wasn’t the No. 1 reason to come,” Price said.

He cited the national economy as a big reason for tourism’s upswing. And, of course, marketing.

“We know from research that people need to be marketed to,” Price said. “They need to be invited to come. We have increased marketing dollars; as the auto and rental tax collections have gone up, we have received a percentage of those and been able to do more campaigns.”

Price said 2017 is shaping up to be another record year. Through June, the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax collected by the city of Colorado Springs is up 19.01 percent.

Price also cited increased direct flights to and from the area offered by the Colorado Springs Airport as a driver for tourism.

“A strong economy and better airport service, combined with effective marketing campaigns and group sales efforts, continue our destination’s growth trajectory,” Price said in a news release. “The business of tourism, often referred to as an invisible industry, creates over 17,000 jobs and saves each family of four more than $835 in additional annual taxes that would otherwise have to be paid to maintain infrastructure. We’re seeing proven results from our limited budget, but continue to collaborate, assess and consider ways to increase current funding to match our competitors and extend the positive impact on our community.”

Other key findings from the Longwoods International Colorado Springs Annual Visitor Profile Study include:

  • Overnight travel to Colorado Springs has risen 32 percent since 2012, compared to a national growth rate of 9 percent.
  • For overnight trips, the top state markets for visitors continue to be Colorado, California, Texas, Kansas, New York, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, Missouri and Illinois.
  • The average length of a trip for people who came to Colorado Springs is 4.5 nights compared to the average U.S. trip of 3.7 nights.
  • The size of the travel party increased to 3.2 in 2016 compared to 3.0 in 2015.
  • Almost three-quarters of overnight visitors used a smart phone for travel/activity planning purposes during their trip.
  • Nearly 90 percent of visitors arrive in a vehicle (owned or rented).
  • The most popular activities continue to be: shopping, visiting a state park, hiking, visiting a landmark/historic site, fine dining and visiting museums.
  • About 10 percent of rooms sold were for business travelers, mirroring national statistics. These travelers commonly spend more on lodging, meeting space and associated items than leisure travelers and are an important market for larger hotels.

“Knowing how visitors are inspired and what they like to do in the region is an important component to craft our advertising strategy, annual media mix, timing and creative development,” said Amy Long, the CVB’s chief innovation officer. “We are positioning Colorado Springs as Olympic City USA, a year-round inspirational destination for families, outdoor enthusiasts, arts and culture travelers and those that plan meetings and events.”