Special events, high-tech promotions bring in fall visitors

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Summer’s colorful balloons have landed and festival tents have folded, marking the end of Colorado Springs’ peak tourist season.

But many visitors think fall is the best time to come to the Pikes Peak region, and local tourism promotion organizations are stepping up their efforts to bring them here.

“With kids back in school, there still might be some family travel on weekends, but there are a lot more mature travelers or couples traveling who don’t have kids yet,” said Amy Long, Chief Innovation Officer for the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We also draw from a closer geographic area. We advertise more within the state, but closer to home.”

The CVB is promoting fall foliage and events like Manitou Springs’ Emma Crawford Coffin Races, as it always does.

But this year, the organization is using new ways to track its campaigns.

“Our website [visitcos.com] does very well and is ranked very highly by Google,” Long said. “We have paid search; we do emails and various targeted, programmatic ads.”

The organization has identified the geographic areas, demographics and psychographics it wants to serve and targets those factors through ads on various websites.

“We have put pixels in our ads, so if somebody has used our app on their mobile device, we’re able to track that,” Long said. “It doesn’t tell us how many people have come, but it tells us which creative assets are working best, which cities are drawing the most and which banner ad draws best.”

The new technology, called Arrivalist, is also used by the Colorado Tourism Office.

One of the targeted campaigns focuses on fall foliage and aims to drive leisure weekend and overnight visits.

“We’re highlighting the scenic beauty of the aspens and gorgeous drives at a time of year when we have really good weather,” Long said. “We created new 15- and 30-second videos featuring the foliage from last year in Cripple Creek.”

The CVB website’s holiday events pages draw very heavy traffic, Long said.

“We’ve got a variety of Halloween events like Boo at the Zoo [at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo] and haunted houses,” she said. “There are a lot of different restaurant and hotel specials for Thanksgiving, and a lot going on for the Christmas holidays.”

While a Crafts & Drafts beverage-
focused campaign ended in August, the deals offered during the promotion by the CVB’s 24 partner breweries, distilleries and coffee shops are good through the end of the year.

For the campaign, the CVB created a microsite that smartphone users could download to access the deals, such as buy one, get one free. As people accessed a partner’s site, “we got a record,” Long said. “This year’s campaign had 6,000 downloads.”

Working smarter with new technology is one way the organization stretches its funding.

“At our current level of funding, we need to make sure we are supporting the summer season first and foremost,” Long said. “We do most of our advertising then, but we are working toward a year-round series of advertising as our funding increases.”

The CVB receives a little more than 50 percent of the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax, the 2 percent hotel and 1 percent car rental tax collected by the city. The rest of its funding comes from members’ annual dues and purchases of print and online advertising.

The CVB’s medical tourism website, championshipcarecoloradocprings.org, was launched in May. It continues to hypertarget potential medical patients with information about the availability of medical specialties such as hip, knee and heart valve replacements and helps patients and families plan their trips.

“We don’t have a lot of statistics yet, but we are starting to see traffic come to the page,” Long said. “We track the number of visits and unique users. When people are making these decisions, they’ll go back to the site multiple times, and we’re starting to see that.”

At Pikes Peak Country Attractions, which represents 24 local attractions from the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame to the Space Foundation Discovery Center, fall promotions also focus on a different traveler, Executive Director Patricia “PK” Knickerbocker said.

The organization gears its promotions to families during the summer but shifts to “dual income with no kids, and older people in the fall,” Knickerbocker said.

“Pikes Peak is our No. 1 draw,” she said. “We start to see more business for Miramont Castle and the Iron Springs Chateau [in Manitou Springs] and Cripple Creek. Those towns get a lot of business this time of year.”

Cool events like the coffin races bring day trippers from the Denver-Boulder area and are big draws that help sustain the fall market.

But Knickerbocker said she expects the dampening of visitor traffic that’s resulted from ongoing road construction on the Westside and in Manitou to continue into the fall season.

“Manitou has been very difficult to get into and out of,” she said. “It’s hard to explain to people and has been a detriment to those on the Westside.”

Furthermore, “as for going up Pikes Peak, the additional traffic because of the closure of the cog railway has been a continual issue for us this year.”

Some attractions, such as the Manitou Cliff Dwellings and Cave of the Winds have seen increased traffic this summer, Knickerbocker said.

The cog “has done a great job trying to redirect folks to other attractions,” she said.

But between the train’s closure and construction of the Westside Avenue Action Plan project, “we see that as being a continuing issue for folks in Manitou,” Knickerbocker added.

Nevertheless, Leslie Lewis, executive director of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce, thinks October is going to be a big month.

October features the monthlong Skeleton Craze and the Emma Crawford Coffin Races, which happen Oct. 27.

During the Skeleton Craze, visitors can vote for their favorite skeleton displays at local businesses.

“We’re adding some different activities to bring people over to Manitou to look for skeletons,” Lewis said.

The races were inspired by a woman who died of tuberculosis in Manitou Springs a hundred years ago and was buried at the summit of Red Mountain above the town. It’s said that her coffin was unearthed by a heavy rainstorm and slid down the mountain into Manitou.

This year, 70 teams consisting of four runners will race down Manitou Avenue pushing decorated coffins, each carrying a costumed Emma. The event is expected to draw tens of thousands of spectators.

SunWater Spa will be hosting activities in Memorial Park to entertain people waiting for shuttles back to their vehicles.

“We bring in school buses to shuttle people from Rock Ledge Ranch since we don’t have enough parking in Manitou,” Lewis said.

Manitou will be dressed up for the Christmas holiday season with extra sparkling lights, Lewis said. The town’s merchants rely on holiday shopping to supplement summer sales, and the town will again bring in strolling musicians and welcome Santa with the annual Christmas parade.

Up in Palmer Lake, a group called Awake Palmer Lake is working to salvage and restore the town’s namesake body of water and enhance and upgrade the recreation areas around it.

The town received a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado to build a bridge across the railroad tracks.

A .5K race — yes, that’s really .5K — at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 7 will help raise funds for the project, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year, said Catherine Green-Sinnard, Palmer Lake town administrator.

Other events, like the annual chili supper and lighting of the 450-foot-wide holiday star on Sundance Mountain, draw people from around the region. This year will be its 82nd lighting.

“They all kind of feel like home-town events, but everybody who drives Interstate 25 can see the star, and people from the whole region are always welcome,” Green-Sinnard said.

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