Colorado Springs ranked No. 2 in the recent U.S. News & World Report list of best places to live. Now the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau wants to make the city the No. 1 U.S. destination for experiential travel.

That is the CVB’s vision for the next 10 years, “inspired by the majesty of Pikes Peak, the iconic and accessible natural wonders and the Olympic spirit,” President and CEO Doug Price told a crowd of hundreds at the CVB’s annual meeting Wednesday, May 2, at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel.

Competition for visitors is fierce and consumers are demanding “authentic and unique experiences,” Price said. That’s why the bureau is working on a destination master plan to promote the Pikes Peak region’s dedication to sports, attract strategic events and develop infrastructure and services that both tourists and locals want.

Price said the plan, which will be released in June, focuses on infrastructure, facilities, services, attractions and events and leverages work that has already been done in other area master plans.

It also contains ideas and wisdom gleaned from 14 focus group sessions, more than 30 one-on-one interviews and a public sentiment survey that drew more than 2,500 responses.

Price said 91 percent of the survey respondents thought tourism and conventions were important or extremely important to the local area. Respondents also viewed public transportation and ease of getting around as the biggest areas in need of improvement.

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Branding for the Colorado Springs region also needs to be improved, Price said.

“We are now looking at how to break the state up, and we’re looking at the unique types of experiences we have,” he said.

Visitors to the region will be missing a signature experience since the closure of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. In addition, the landmark Cadet Chapel at the Air Force Academy will be closing later this year for repairs.

“Those two experiences are top reasons people come to Colorado Springs,” Price said. “We have to reassure them” that there are plenty of other things to do, he said.

“Without the Cog, we have to be smart to make sure it’s still a bucket-list trip” to the top of Pikes Peak, he said. The future of the Cog Railway uncertain while its owners decide whether it’s worthwhile to repair the aging attraction.

“We all hope it’s going to come back,” Price said. In the meantime, he said, Adventures Out West and Gray Line Tours have stepped in to provide shuttle service to the summit via the Pikes Peak Highway.

Price noted that free shuttle buses would be running from Rock Ledge Ranch through Garden of the Gods Park during the summer season.

“So far, visitors have not been screaming that we’re not doing well, but we need to get ahead of this and make sure we make the experience in the park memorable,” he said.

Also regarding transportation, Price cited the introduction of PikeRide, the bike share program that is set to launch in early summer.

“Multimodal transportation really begins with two wheels,” Price said.

Raquel Ortiz, assistant director of financial performance for the hotel benchmarking firm STR Consulting and Analytics, said in her keynote speech at the meeting that the Colorado Springs region’s hotels are outpacing the nation in key performance indicators.

“There has been very smooth, positive growth in this market since 2010,” Ortiz said.

Demand has been strong in most segments of the Colorado Springs hotel market in the first quarter of this year.

The region has seen the highest growth in demand in the upper midscale and economy segments and the lowest demand growth in the luxury segment, which includes hotels with average daily rates in the top 15 percent.

That is indicative of what types of visitors are coming to Colorado Springs and that visitors are “conscious of price point,” Ortiz said.

“Leisure travelers have increased visitation a lot” in the first quarter of this year, and Ortiz said she expects that trend will continue through summer.

Ortiz said she expects the Colorado Springs hotel market will continue to see growth in the next two years.

“We don’t anticipate a downturn anytime soon,” she said.

Read more about Ortiz’s presentation at the CVB annual meeting in the May 4 edition of the Business Journal.