COLORADO SPRINGS — Local leaders in the tourism industry say, despite all the setbacks 2020 brought them, they feel like our area still has quite a few things working in its favor to bring tourism back to pre-pandemic levels.
“Tourism is the third largest employer in the county,” said Doug Price, president and CEO of Visit COS.
For over a decade now, it’s been his job to keep our area’s tourism industry growing.
“Pre-pandemic we employed almost 20,000 people,” Price said. “We have been on a steady trajectory really over the last eight years, until 2020.”
As we know by now, the pandemic hit the tourism industry particularly hard.
“We had several hotels that completely closed down for the months of April, May, and even into June,” he said.
At their lowest point, hotels in Colorado Springs were only about 18 percent full on average.
“The hotels locally saw weekends really start to take off,” he said.
--Summer changed the game.
“By the summer, we were running over 70 percent occupancy, which made us the number one market in the country for a couple of months,” Price said.
He said it’s because the decrease in travel in 2020 mainly came from business travelers.
“We clearly did have leisure travelers here enjoying our outdoor recreation and our trails and open space,” Price said.
He said overall in 2020, the colorado springs region finished 7th nationwide in overall hotel occupancy numbers at a 54 percent average.
The shift from business to leisure travel is what he says ultimately led to Southwest Airlines bringing service here starting this week.
“Their advanced bookings are exceeding their expectations,” he said.
Already, the tourism industry is preparing for a new influx of travelers.
“One of the first markets we’re really going to see some increase in, is the senior traveler,” Price said.
With that group getting vaccinated first, he says domestic, not international travel will be their likely choice.
“With the travel restrictions that are still in place internationally, it means that more Americans will be staying domestically to do their travel,” he said.
He’s keeping a cautious optimism that one of our area’s biggest industries is on the rebound.
“We’re at a very good crossroads for our city,” Price said. “And there’s a lot of excitement about the development that’s happening particularly in tourism.”