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Records set in 2016 Colorado Springs tourism season likely to fall in 2017

September 7, 2017 Updated: September 8, 2017 at 10:29 am
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The Royal Gorge Bridge crosses the gorge 955 feet above the Arkansas River and remains the highest bridge in the United States in Cañon City, Colorado. The bridge was built in six months between June and November 1929 at a cost of $350,000.

The final numbers are in for last year's tourism season, setting new records for visitors and spending that likely will be surpassed this year, the CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau said Thursday.

Visitor numbers in 2016 were up 12 percent from 2015 to 23 million and spending for the same period rose 14 percent to $2.25 billion, according to the annual visitor profile study from Longwoods International, a Toronto-based tourism research company that has completed an annual study of local tourism data for the past four years.

Those numbers likely have increased again this year, based on collections from the city's tax on hotel rooms and rental cars, hotel occupancy reports and visitor numbers from some local tourist attractions, said Doug Price, the bureau's CEO.

"A strong economy and better airport service, combined with effective marketing campaigns and group sales efforts, continue our destination's growth trajectory," Price said in a news release on the study results. "That seems to be trend again this year, so 2017 likely will pass 2016 as a record year for the local tourism industry."

Officials from both the Pikes Peak Highway and the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park Thursday reported visitor numbers through August this year were up from the same period last year. Highway visitors are up 4.8 percent during the 8-month period to 374,880 with gains in every month but January and July and revenue up even more as a result of rate increase. Visitor numbers for Royal Gorge are expected to end the year up about 5 percent from last year's 340,000 total, said Peggy Gair, human resource and public relations manager for the Cañon City tourist attraction.

Collections of the city's tax on hotel rooms and rental cars through July, the latest information available, are up 19 percent from the same period a year ago, while the hotel occupancy rate for the same period increased to 70.5 percent from 69.7 percent last year, according to the Rocky Mountain Lodging Report.

The tourism industry also benefited last year from a shift in the type of visitor traveling to the Colorado Springs area from those visiting (and often staying with) friends and family to a more traditional leisure traveler that chose to come to the area for other reasons, Price said. That shift helps hotels, tourist attractions and restaurants since leisure travelers making what the industry calls "marketable" trips generally stay in local hotels, dine in local restaurants and visit local attractions while those visiting friends and family often stay and eat with their hosts, he said.

"Whether they stay in an AirBnB property, a bed and breakfast or a local hotel, they are paying lodging and sales tax and helping our local economy," Price said. "Leisure travelers don't spend as much as business travelers because they tend to drive in from a 500-mile radius instead of flying in as business travelers usually do. We hope to attract more business travel with our improved air service, more businesses moving here and more hotels built, but we are already close to the national average in the share of our visitors - 10 percent - who are business travelers."

Other information from the Longwoods report:

- 57 percent of local visitors took a day trip, while 43 percent stayed overnight with 89 percent arriving in a vehicle. Overnight travel to the Springs has risen 32 percent since 2012, or more than triple the 9 percent national growth rate during the same period. Top states for overnight visitors last year were Colorado, California, Texas, Kansas, New York, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, Missouri and Illinois.

- The average visitor stays 4.5 nights in the Springs, compared with the U.S. average of 3.7 nights. The most popular activities remain shopping, visiting a state park, hiking, visiting a landmark or historic site, fine dining and visiting museums.

- The size of the travel party grew from 3.0 in 2015 to 3.2 in 2016.

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

Twitter @wayneheilman

Facebook Wayne Heilman

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