Bridge work hasn’t hurt tourism, it appears
With the barrage of family vacationers and the general busyness of the summer tourist season behind — and by most accounts it was a successful one — Glenwood Springs continues to roll out the carpet for what’s becoming a fairly lucrative fall season on the tourism front.
Among the late-summer visitors Wednesday were Bill Lang and Jim Biggins of Kansas City, who were passing through on a motorcycle tour of the Rocky Mountains.
“It’s nicer traveling after Labor Day. There’s less traffic everywhere,” said Biggins, who has fond memories of Glenwood Springs, having hitchhiked through when he was 21 and landing a free meal at a local diner.
Lang also visited Glenwood Springs as a kid and wanted to come through during a less-hectic time of year.
More and more, the warm-season draw doesn’t end with Labor Day, said Lisa Langer, vice president of tourism marketing for the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.
“Unlike many Colorado mountain towns, Glenwood Springs is a year-round tourism destination,” Langer said. “When school starts, we get busy with empty nesters and international visitors.”
Many of those visitors come for the fall colors and the cooler temperatures, she said, while others are more inclined to travel when the crowds are not as daunting and lodging rates have relaxed a bit.
“These travelers tend to visit throughout the week, not just on the weekends,” she said.
Already this month, the downtown visitor information center has recorded visitors from Iceland, Belgium, Scandinavia, Germany, Bulgaria, China and Australia.
“Our international tourists in particular like this time of year, because there is less traffic and shorter lines for some of the attractions,” Langer said.
Barbara Hille, manager at the Caravan Inn, said she noticed a lot more international visitors during the summer months as well.
“It was a wonderful summer for us. We were really busy,” Hille said. “Our numbers have been up and occupancy was up, so we’re very happy.”
Langer said the tune was the same from others she talked to, from hoteliers and campground owners to downtown restaurants.
Despite the hassles associated with the Grand Avenue bridge construction, Langer and others said it was a banner summer from a tourism standpoint.
“There were just a lot of people in town, and no one was too concerned with the bridge,” said Ken Murphy, a member of the city’s Tourism Board and owner of Glenwood Adventure Co., which offers a variety of outdoor activities.
“We had a lot of people from different areas this summer,” he said. “I noticed people from the East Coast, the Southeast and a lot of international visitors.”
Group business, including church and Scout groups and business retreats, was also up this summer, Murphy said. That signals a rebound from the post-recession years when those types of visits declined, he said.
“Our market is also growing beyond more than just visitors from the Front Range and neighboring states,” he said. “Glenwood Springs is really becoming a bucket list place to visit.”
Steve Beckley, owner of the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and the Iron Mountain Hot Springs, which celebrated one year in business this summer, concurred.
“It was a good summer, the whole town was busy,” he said. “The hot springs did well for its first full summer, and the caverns were up about 2 or 3 percent compared to last year, which was a record year for us.”
Top of the summer
Key indicators, such as city sales taxes and occupancy rates for Glenwood Springs lodges, would seem to support the claims.
Hotels and motels reporting to the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association had an 88.5 percent occupancy rate in July, with an average daily room rate of $162.40, according to the most recent monthly report.
Glenwood’s occupancy rate for July was higher than several other resorts, including Aspen, Vail, Telluride, Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge.
Only Estes Park, Durango, Colorado Springs and Loveland topped Glenwood’s occupancy levels for the month.
On the sales front, year to date, regular sales taxes collected on overnight stays are up almost 9 percent. And for July alone the city’s special lodging tax, which goes to support tourism promotion, was up 7.4 percent. Through seven months of the year, the lodging tax is running nearly 7 percent ahead of 2015.
Overall, retail sales in Glenwood Springs were up 1.2 percent in July and 8.9 percent in June, and for the year are up 5.1 percent.
GETTING THEM BACK
Langer said Glenwood Springs benefits from repeat visitors, and extra efforts will be made next year to bring people back to Glenwood. Since the bridge construction proved to be little deterrent this summer, that should not be a problem next year, she said.
“Even with the limited budget we have compared to neighboring resort destinations, Glenwood Springs has a robust media plan,” Langer said, adding that 44 percent of the city’s tourism budget goes to advertising.
“We market not only to repeat customers but also reach out to new demographics on an ongoing basis,” she said.
The ambassador program that the city and the chamber partnered on to have in place as a way to help visitors find their way around the bridge construction zone also seemed to help, she said.
The planned completion of the new pedestrian bridge by next March will be a huge bonus for next summer, Langer added. And, people who were here this summer might just want to come back and check out the progress of the new highway bridge, she acknowledged.
“It’s a temporary problem, and not an issue that’s going to linger,” Langer added. “And the front line service staff has really been doing their job to promote a positive message to the visitors. That speaks volumes, and it’s great advertising.”
Murphy agreed that the positive messaging helped.
“No one we dealt with really seemed frustrated by the construction, and I think people are excited about how the town will look when it’s done,” he said.
Post Independent entertainment and features editor Will Grandbois contributed to this report.
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