May 25, 2013 Updated: May 25, 2013 at 5:30 pm
Acacia Park was alive with music Saturday afternoon.
Parks employees opened the Acacia Park Convention and Visitors Bureau Hub and handed out brochures touting area attractions, events and restaurants. And children splashed around in Uncle Wilbur's Fountain for the first time this year.
Each year, Memorial Day weekend brings the hope of a new tourism season. Annually, an estimated 5 million people visit the Pikes Peak region and spend about $1 billion.
"Hope springs eternal with a capital "S" in Springs," said Steve Ducoff, Pikes Peak Lodging Association executive director.
This tourism season is especially important to local businesses, which took a major hit last summer following the national media coverage of the Waldo Canyon fire. The Small Business Development Center estimates the total loss of business was $8.6 million in those weeks following the fire, which proved to be the most destructive in Colorado history, destroying 347 homes, blackening 18,000 acres and killing two people.
But even after the fire ended there was a long lasting impact, said El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, owner of Holden House Bed and Breakfast Inn in Old Colorado City. Tourists saw the flames on TV and cancelled reservations into September, she said.
One indicator of how low tourism dipped was reflected in the Colorado Springs Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax collections for 2012: down 16.41 percent in August, 4.3 percent in September, and 7.89 percent in October against the same months in 2011. Manitou Springs' sales tax collections were down 9.3 percent in June, 7.2 percent in July, and 6.7 percent in August from the same months in 2011.
"We are trying to figure out how to create a different perspective," Clark said.
This year, Holden House is running more specials to attract tourists, she said. Clark has hit social media and the bed and breakfast industry is promoting its lodges as all inclusive destinations.
"All we are trying to do is be up from last year, which probably won't be hard to do," she said.
Summer is one of the busiest times for Savory Spice on Tejon Street downtown.
"It's second only to the holidays," said store owner Dick Frieg. "If tourism is doing good in Colorado Springs, we should benefit. I'm cautiously optimistic for this summer."
Last year, following the fire, the Convention and Visitors Bureau won two state grants to promote the region. It spent $125,000 in online advertising and $75,000 in traditional print advertising. It advertised in Denver, Kansas City, Dallas and other areas in Texas.
Doug Price, the bureau's president and CEO, said he's seeing the payoff. Traffic on the bureau's website is up and orders for the official visitor's guide are up 90 percent over last year.
"Those are signs to us that the grant money we got, that people are noticing and we are generating a lot of interest," Price said.
It's already a different year, Price said. Last year, fires landed Colorado Springs in the national media spotlight.
This year, it was the Warrior Games and Prince Harry, Price said.
"Here we are 11 months later and Colorado Spring was on international airwaves because of Warrior Games," he said.