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Last year was the most difficult year for Colorado Springs hotels and those across the state since at least 1986 as the COVID-19 pandemic hammered the travel industry, according to the Rocky Mountain Lodging Report.

Local hotels filled just half of their rooms in 2020 as many full-service hotels, including The Broadmoor and Cheyenne Mountain Resort, shut down during the spring amid a statewide stay-at-home order and were hamstrung by capacity limits that banned most meetings for the rest of the year. The 50% occupancy rate was the lowest in records starting in 1986 and down from 70% in 2019, one of the best years for the hotel lodging industry since the late 1990s.

"It could have been worse. I know that there is not always a lot of solace in comparing ourselves to other cities, but we maximized the opportunity that we had," said Doug Price, CEO of Visit Colorado Springs. "It was a year of trying to get (rooms) occupied, so that cost some in room rates, but we achieved the best we could for the year," given that the pandemic kept hotels, airline flights and tourist attractions across the nation mostly empty.

The occupancy rate fell to a low of 18.1% in April during stay-at-home orders that covered most of the country, but recovered to reach more than 70% in August before falling sharply late in the year. The December occupancy rate of 36.2% was the lowest for any December since 2009, in part because Colorado Springs and much of the rest of the state were covered by pandemic restrictions that left hotels and restaurants barely operating, with no indoor dining or meetings.

The average room rate for local hotels in December was down 8% from a year earlier to $88.57, the smallest monthly drop since March. The average rate for the year declined 14.4% to $102.42, the lowest since 2015. The revenue per available room took a beating, falling nearly 39% to $51.19 with full-service hotels hit the hardest because most large meetings and conventions had been canceled.

Still, Colorado Springs fared better than most of the state and nation.

The statewide occupancy rate last year was just 44%, down from nearly 70% in 2019. Denver area hotels filled 41.2% of their rooms in 2020, down from 74.3% in 2019 with downtown convention hotels hit the hardest. Only Greeley, a handful of ski resorts and a pair of Western Slope cities posted higher occupancy rates than Colorado Springs in 2020. Hotel occupancy in Colorado Springs ranked seventh among the 165 U.S. cities tracked by hotel research firm STR.

Price is expecting a turnaround this year — he forecasts collections of the city's tax on hotel rooms and rental cars will jump 25% from last year, but that will still be down 25% from the record level collections reached in 2019. He said the industry's recovery will depend on how quickly most Americans get the COVID-19 vaccine and when travelers will feel comfortable enough to hit the road again.

"I expect we will see more people in the third and fourth quarters than we will see earlier in the year. By that time, we hope meetings will be able to return to the state," Price said. "We have a lot of things to be excited about, including Southwest Airlines flying to Colorado Springs, the opening of the new summit house on Pikes Peak, the return of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, the opening of the new downtown stadium, plus the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum that opened last summer.

The Broadmoor and Cheyenne Mountain Resort are not included in the report's Colorado Springs totals, but are instead part of the "other resorts" category that includes many of Colorado's ski resorts.

Contact Wayne Heilman 636-0234

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