News Column

With no natural disasters, Pikes Peak area's summer tourism season sizzled

September 3, 2014

By Wayne Heilman, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

Sept. 03--What a difference a couple of years can make.

Summer is prime time for tourism in the Pikes Peak region, and industry officials say this year's was the best since at least 2011, benefiting from moderate gasoline prices and an absence of the major wildfires and floods that kept visitors away in 2012 and 2013.

Attendance reports from some local attractions

- Pikes Peak Highway: January-August attendance up 21.6 percent from the same period in 2013 to 265,749. That is already more than the full-year totals for 2011 and 2012 and just 19,130 visitors shy of 2013's full-year number.

- Cheyenne Mountain Zoo: Memorial Day-Labor attendance was down about 1,000 from the same period in 2013 to 377,000. Zoo attendance surged in 2013 after the opening of its $13.5 million Encounter Africa exhibit.

- Western Museum of Mining & Industry: Attendance in June and July was up 15 percent from the same period last year, which museum officials attribute to a lack of fires and floods and more out-of-state tourists visiting the Colorado Springs area.

Ryan Cole, executive director of the Pikes Peak Country Attractions Association, said Tuesday that many of the association's 25 members are reporting attendance well above the past two summers.

"You could tell by driving around places like Manitou, Garden of the Gods and Old Colorado City that out-of-state tourists were back," Cole said. "All of the attractions I have talked to say this is the best season since 2011."

Some attractions got close to numbers they recorded in 2011, which he called the last "great season" for the industry.

"Many of them experienced the greatest single-day attendance this past summer," Cole said. "If you look at both gate attendance and per-person spending, on both fronts our attractions have had a good year. Not having fires and flood doesn't hurt."

Visitor numbers for the Pikes Peak Highway are up more than 20 percent from a year ago and on track to exceed last year's total, which was the highest annual visitor total since 2001, said Sandy Elliott, park operations administrator.

Attendance at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo between Memorial Day and Labor Day fell just short of last year's total, but last summer marked the zoo's opening of its $13.5 million Encounter Africa exhibit.

"It is hard to compete with an opening of a new exhibit last year, so we were happy to nearly match last year's numbers this year without an opening," said zoo spokeswoman Erica Meyer.

Local hotels also are benefiting. The occupancy rate for Colorado Springs hotels in the first seven months of the year increased to 63.5 percent from 60.8 percent from a year earlier, according to the Rocky Mountain Lodging Report. The occupancy rate for July alone jumped to 86.2 percent from 75.5 percent in July 2013, the biggest percentage increase from the same month a year earlier since at least 2000.

Chelsy Offutt, spokeswoman for the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Tuesday that many local tourist attractions reported strong visitor traffic during the Labor Day weekend, with several reporting full parking lots. She speculated that many in-state visitors may have traveled to Colorado Springs sometime during the weekend to see the Colorado Balloon Festival in what organizers have said would be the event's last year in the city.


Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

Twitter @wayneheilman

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