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What gas prices? 

Summer tourism off to a good beginning in Manitou Springs

click to enlarge Downtown Manitou Springs has taken on a different - appearance with utility lines moved underground.
  • Downtown Manitou Springs has taken on a different appearance with utility lines moved underground.

So what if gas prices are starting at $3 a gallon? The tourist season in Manitou Springs appears to be thriving after its first full month, thanks in part to a downtown redevelopment project and a boost in advertising dollars from the state.

At least for now, the threat of escalating gas prices has failed to have the anticipated negative impact on tourism, according to many in Manitou.

Some motels aren't lighting their "no vacancy" signs as much, but restaurants and retail stores are doing fine.

Tim Haas, whose family has operated the Garden of the Gods Trading Post since 1979, says, "I think if gas was at $4 per gallon, it would have been disastrous. Early reports suggested that 25 percent of visitors would have altered their plans. That would have been really scary for us, but it is just not the case for us this year.

"We are seeing more people but they are spending slightly less. That might be an indication of the effect of gas prices. Frankly, at the Trading Post, we're not seeing much (sales) in the higher end, but the caf is dramatically up. People are going to eat when they are on vacation."

Kathy Symonds, who, with her husband David, owns the Craftwood Inn and Stagecoach Inn restaurants, agrees.

"It's been very busy, especially at the Stagecoach. I'd say we're doubling our numbers from last year," she says. "I think a lot of people are just saying "Let's go even with gas prices high.'"

Summer could be nearly over by the time Manitou Springs Finance Director Mike Leslie is able to officially determine if June was a boon or bust for businesses. If last year is any clue, according to Leslie, there should be an increase in sales-tax revenues.

"Last June we had a 1.5 percent increase over June 2005," he says.

The Colorado Department of Revenue collects the sales tax. Typically, there's a lag time of one to two months.

click to enlarge Tourists are ignoring the higher travel costs this - summer.
  • Tourists are ignoring the higher travel costs this summer.

"The way it looks now, we're going to have a great summer," says Leslie Lewis, executive director of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce. "We're receiving a lot of inquiries from people still planning on coming this summer. They're saying they're going to be here in July and August. Gas prices have come down and people still want to travel."

Some of the usually packed motels "seem to be a little quieter this year," Leslie says. "There are others that are booked through July and August."

Michele Smith, manager of Best Value Inn Villa Motel on Manitou Avenue, says, "I think people are not staying home because of the gas prices. Maybe they're spending a little less on souvenirs, but (gas) prices are not keeping them home."

The family-owned Villa has seen steady traffic during June, according to Smith. The recent downtown redevelopment hasn't hurt either.

"We also operate a store (Manitou Outpost and Western Shop) in downtown Manitou," Haas adds, "and it is doing dramatically better than it had. I think people are rediscovering Manitou."

The wider sidewalks, new concrete work, street lamps and absence of power lines (moved underground) are part of the new look.

"I think it is making people stop and get out of their cars," Symonds says.

Those cars are primarily from Colorado, according to Lewis. Texas is a close second, followed by the Midwest, Arizona and California.

Another contributing factor is funding from Colorado's gambling industry, promoting tourism in the state.

"I think that has had some impact," Lewis says.

With gas prices moving lower and good weather, that trend should continue.

"Each year there's something that could throw a wrench in the plans," Haas says. "In the past it was the drought, 9-11, the Hayman fire. Those things are terrible and they scare people.

"This year it was supposed to be gas prices." newsroom@csindy.com

  • Summer tourism off to a good beginning in Manitou Springs

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