Colorado tourism industry hoping people need fun
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. What’s the mood at Pikes Peak-area lodging and attractions as the summer tourism season approaches?Cautiously pessimistic, said Spencer Wren, manager of the Manitou Springs & Pikes Peak Cog Railway.”At this point, we’re really hoping that we can hold our own with last year,” Wren said. “Last year, we were slightly down.”No one in local tourism is calling for a disaster there’s a strong belief that people will give up a lot before they give up their vacations. And a few are even willing to hope for more than just getting by.Linda Husted, director of operations at Seven Falls, thinks visitors are ready to forget their troubles and have a little fun.”I’m the eternal optimist when it comes to that,” she said. “So far this year, our numbers have been great. I’m not hoping for ‘breaking even,’ I’m hoping for ‘up.'”The summer season accounts for more than 80 percent of local tourism revenue, said Chelsy Offutt, public relations manager for Experience Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak, the convention and visitors bureau. And tourism accounts for 14,000 jobs and $1.1 billion in revenue for the local economy. It’s the region’s third-largest industry, tourism officials say.”We’re predicting (tourism) will stay the same,” Offutt said. “We think that the drive market is really going to be strong this year.”The “drive market” means everyone from Fort Collins to Fort Worth, Texas, who hops in a car when they visit the Springs instead of taking a plane. The drive market typically accounts for 85 percent of local visitors, Offutt said, but if gas prices stay down and the economy stabilizes, that number could rise this year.Tapping into that market will require careful marketing and a few incentives, Offutt said. The visitors bureau put together a list of free local attractions on its Web site and is encouraging local businesses to post coupons throughout the summer.”They may not spend a lot, but they will spend,” Michele Carvell, executive director of the Pikes Peak Country Attractions Association, said of tourists.Local hotels have taken a hit as meetings and convention business has shriveled, said Stephen Ducoff, executive director of the Pikes Peak Lodging Association. And it’s not just the economy, he said; it’s a matter of perception.”The Broadmoor has been painted with that brush of being way too nice to justify to stockholders their executives having a meeting there,” Ducoff said.Convention and events business is down 20-25 percent at Cheyenne Mountain Resort, said John Branciforte, director of sales and marketing. That’s much better than some areas of the country, he said, but it still leaves a gap that needs to be filled.In past years, Cheyenne Mountain and its nearby neighbor The Broadmoor have had to turn away some vacationers because they were booked up with meetings.”The way we’re built, we’re built for families, and that’s the segment that’s growing,” Branciforte said.The Broadmoor is also hoping families and leisure travelers will replace convention business, said John Washko, The Broadmoor’s vice president for sales and marketing. He said he believes consumer sentiment is shifting either because the economy is hitting bottom, or because people are getting used to it.”People are ready to have fun,” Washko said. “We’re all kind of used to the fact that our 401(k)’s aren’t what they used to be. After a certain point, people say, ‘Enough with that. I’ve got to break away.'”So tourists will come, but they may not open their pocketbooks very wide. Tim Haas, co-owner of the Garden of the Gods Trading Post, said food service revenue at the post is up this year, while retail sales are down.”People want to get out, but they certainly are a little tighter spending on the retail side,” he said.Still, Haas said 2009 is going better than he hoped.”I was forecasting we would be down 20 percent this year,” he said. “Thus far, we aren’t down anywhere near that.”The unemployment rate, higher than a year ago, does have a silver lining for seasonal businesses. Sure, it means the economy is down and people have less to spend, but it also means businesses can choose from more qualified candidates and put off hiring decisions until the economic picture becomes clearer.”Some years in the late 1990s, we were hurting for people,” Wren said. “Now, we’ve got people who are overqualified coming in looking for work. That helps us because we don’t have to worry about grabbing a warm body.”Tom Haggard, owner of the North Pole and Santa’s Workshop, said there’s no shortage of adults in need of work, but he plans to stick with hiring mostly teenagers and young adults. It fits the amusement park’s theme and schedule, he said, and it helps ensure he’ll have some trained staff coming back next season.Ready or not, the summer season is on its way.”You can’t ever figure this business out to begin with,” Haggard said. “I’m going to be optimistic until I’m proved wrong.”___On the Net:Experience Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak: http://www.experiencecoloradosprings.com
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