Living in a region that attracts tourists from near and far can be both challenging and rewarding. Traffic is worse and it may be tougher to get a reservation at a favorite restaurant, but there are plenty of positives that come with the influx of visitors.
Many of our friends and neighbors work at restaurants, hotels, local attractions and other businesses that depend on tourism dollars to survive and thrive in a competitive market. None of us want to begrudge those business owners and their employees a good living, so we gladly accept out-of-towners hiking our trails or costing us a few minutes as we drive up Highway 24.
The tourism industry is the third-largest employer in the Pikes Peak region with more than 17,000 people, said Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO Doug Price. Only military defense and health care rank higher, he said.
Fact is, those millions of tourists spending billions of dollars in the region helps produce a growing economy that benefits all of the area’s residents.
And those tourists are coming in record numbers. In 2016, there were 23 million visitors to the Pikes Peak region, a 12 percent increase over the previous year. They spent $2.25 billion in our local businesses, a 14 percent increase over 2015.
Price expects those numbers to rise again this year. He noted that the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax collections are up 19.01 percent through June 2017 over the previous year. The LART collects a 1 percent tax on auto rentals and 2 percent on lodging.
Some of those tourists supported a new venture started last year by Greg Wellens of Adventures Out West, a company that offers balloon rides, Jeep excursions, zip line tours and Segway adventures. Wellens orchestrated the COS Rodeo on Wednesday nights at the Norris-Penrose Event Center, offering a cowboy meal and a full rodeo where spectators could even take part.
Wellens put on eight rodeos in 2016 and seven this summer.
“I’d say 90 percent of the people who showed up are tourists,” Wellens said. “It got better and better every show. We averaged about 600 spectators and had about 650 at our last show, so I’d say it was very successful. We do it on Wednesday nights to offer something else for tourists. The weekends around here are so busy in the summer.”
Fort Carson helped support the rodeo on Wednesday nights, Wellens said.
“A color guard came from Fort Carson every week,” he said. “The spectators came from everywhere, it seemed. We had people from South Africa, from England, from Europe. They all wanted to see the Western experience.”
Wellens said the intention is to have the rodeo series again next year. It’s a part of a long list of area attractions that tourists — and locals — should see.
The top 10 most-visited attractions in the region, in order, according to the Convention & Visitors Bureau, are:
- Garden of the Gods Park/Visitor & Nature Center
- U.S. Air Force Academy
- North Cheyenne Canon Park
- Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
- Pikes Peak — America’s Mountain
- Royal Gorge Bridge & Park
- The Broadmoor Pikes Peak Cog Railway
- The Broadmoor Seven Falls
- Focus on the Family
- Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center
Those attractions, and many more in our coveted region, are gems. If you haven’t explored this area lately, do yourself a favor and go see why tourists come here in droves.
Editor’s note: Read more about the region’s record-breaking tourism in the Sept. 8 edition of the Business Journal.