Labor Day is gone, and with it the kids-and-cargo-stuffed cars that invade our area every summer.
For motel and hotel owners, it is a time to reflect on the success or failure of the busy season — and to worry about what the off-season doldrums will do to their bottom lines.
For some in the business, it's not so scary now. After a couple years of recession-driven losses, business seems to have picked up. The Rocky Mountain Lodging Report for July showed occupancy rates in the Springs had jumped 4.1 percent over 2009. Similarly, collections of Colorado Springs' lodging and rental tax were up 6.2 percent in July, year-to-date, compared to 2009 levels. Total collections this year as of July were more than $1.6 million.
But that's not to say that everyone benefited.
"It was about the same as the year before," says Bill Kenline, owner of Rodeway Inn. He adds: "In fact, it was within a couple dollars."
And that means Kenline's inn on South Nevada Avenue is barely surviving. This summer, there were fewer kids in the pool playing Marco Polo. The people staying there mostly showed up sans reservations, and asked for discounts. Kenline says he usually gave in and cut prices rather than lose business.
"We're going to have to have some decent numbers over the winter or fall," he says. "I may have to move into the hotel and sell my house, but those are backup plans."
The worst part for Kenline is that he's losing his safety net. Lenders are clamping down, reducing credit limits. In the past, he'd manage by going into debt in the winter and paying it off in the summer. Now that won't work so well.
"Lenders are being a lot more worried about their own portfolios," he says. Then he laughs, and adds, "I'm still optimistic; I always think we're one day away from something good happening."
As is usually the case, the picture is rosier at the AAA Five-Diamond, Forbes Five-Star Broadmoor Hotel and Resort.
John Washko, vice president of sales and marketing for The Broadmoor, says the hotel exceeded its budgeted revenues this summer by 15 percent, despite business travel and conventions — traditionally big money-makers — remaining depressed.
That said, the hotel is not bringing in the kind of money it did a few years ago. The problem is two-fold: a big recession, and a loud public outcry against businesses booking luxury hotels for conventions in the wake of government bailouts.
"The Broadmoor was not spared," Washko says, adding, "That perception issue hit us square between the eyes."
Summer leisure travelers made up some of the difference this year, Washko says, but he doesn't expect to see revenues return to pre-recession levels until at least 2012 or 2013. In the meantime, the wedding business has been surprisingly good, and people have continued shelling out bucks for all the extras on that special day, he says. Travelers are still playing golf and eating out.
"When you're a resort you're really taking about an experience, and where does a consumer put the value of that experience?" Washko asks rhetorically.
If business consumers aren't "valuing the experience" as much as they used to, Washko believes they'll be back — conventions are part of how business is done in America, he says. For now, The Broadmoor can afford this little slump. In fact, it took advantage of the high vacancy rates early in the year and did extensive renovations.
The Broadmoor isn't the only local lodge that's pulling through. Manitou Springs' Silver Saddle Motel, a town favorite for decades, has had a great year. Manager Artur Bryja says, "It's been really, really good, actually. ... We're up about 25 percent from last year's [revenues]."
Chelsy Murphy, spokesperson for Experience Colorado Springs (the local convention and visitors bureau), says that attractions in the area, such as the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, have fared really well this summer. Lodging, she says, always lags a little behind, because during recessions a lot of families decide to take day trips rather than traditional vacations. However, she's been hearing that the financial picture for hotels and motels is improving slowly.
"People are obviously a bit more confident," she says.
Leslie Lewis, executive director of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, agrees. But she thinks that the outlook is even brighter for Manitou hotels and motels.
"I think it's the uniqueness of Manitou that tends to be a bigger draw," she says, "and it's a smaller area, so the concentration is higher."