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Tourism in the Digital Age

“Explore.” “Come for the Adventure.” “It’s your story.” “Insta Here!”—travel to the Pikes Peak area evolves with technology

The Royal Gorge Bridge provides a great “Selfie Me” opportunity.

The Royal Gorge Bridge provides a great “Selfie Me” opportunity.

The welcome mat is out, and vacationers are already headed to the Pikes Peak region. The area’s magnificent scenery; historic, cultural, and natural attractions; lodging; and eateries, bars, and brew pubs make it a top U.S. tourism destination.

So how do tourism pros generate excitement and prompt visitation to dozens of area attractions and destinations? Thanks to today’s computer apps and social media options, web-empowered consumers can plan their own trips.

A decade ago, it was different. Tourism offices relied mostly on print and electronic advertising. “We used to invite folks throughout the southwest and beyond to ‘Come to Colorado’ or ‘Visit Pikes Peak Country,’” says Visit Colorado Springs Chief Innovations Officer Amy Long. “Now we have the technology and smart social media that reaches specific audiences and tracks results.” Visitors’ posts on Facebook or travel blogs are encouraged.   

The impact of a selfie taken in front of Balanced Rock at Garden of the Gods Park or a video of a buddy eating a donut atop Pikes Peak can be powerful. Friends and family back home see how much fun you’re having and may decide to drive out next year. Like its counterparts around the world, Visit Colorado Springs also incorporates online “influencers” and “boosted” (paid) Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter ads to sell experiences and destinations.

These platforms also enable customized messaging. The Colorado Tourism Office, Visit Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak Region Attractions (PPRA), Pikes Peak Lodging Association (PPLA), the Sports Corp, and the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance have all but scrapped one-size-fits-all destination marketing. In its place is a focus on rich, personalized experiences. As Visit Colorado Springs Director of Communications Chelsy Offutt explains, people in 2019 don’t want to be identified as tourists; they want to visit like a local. Where do locals eat, and what do they do? What are the hidden gems to explore? “They want unique, hands-on experiences. Most rely on shorter planning times. They’ve learned to be resourceful on their own,” she says. “It’s all about instant gratification.”

Google-savvy consumers can hone in on the best room rates, restaurant reviews, and tips on what to do during their stay in the Pikes Peak region. Itineraries can be customized. It’s all just a click away. Sounds simple, but results can be complicated. What happens, for example, when you show up at your B & B or hotel with Rover, and you haven’t filled out an online pet registration?   

Hotel and lodging professionals, although they are in the business of catering to individuals, receive a significant percentage of online room reservations. “Business travelers, for example, tend to know what they’re looking for,” says PPLA President and Broadmoor Vice President and Resident Manager Ann Alba. Corporate brands, such as Marriott, Wyndham, Hilton, and Doubletree all specialize in providing consistency and offerings to match expectations at any property or location—and independent resorts such as The Broadmoor are no different. “They also offer online booking but sometimes face alternate challenges,” Alba says, noting that clients of independent hotels represent a slightly different clientele. Product and room configurations are only known by guests who have previously visited the one-of-a-kind property. “Technology is a great tool, but we always need to provide the personal touch,” she says. That’s why, if questions are unanswered on a reservation form, the reservation team makes a follow-up call. “You can only make a first impression once.”

PPRA Executive Director PK Knickerbocker’s 26-member organization includes headliners ranging from the Royal Gorge, the May Natural History Museum, and the Ghost Town Museum to the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, Cave of the Winds, the Victor/Cripple Creek Narrow Gauge Railroad and more. She says the PPRA learned a long time ago that when people ask for things to do in Colorado Springs, it’s not because they’re out of options. “How could they be?” she asks. “This place is absolutely awesome!” Instead, she explains, visitors are often overwhelmed with the sheer amount of activities, adventures, and attractions available. “They’re begging for someone—anyone—to help them narrow it down just a teensy-weensy bit.” Focused website options include “10 Attractions for Under $10 in Colorado Springs,” “Great, the Weather Stinks—Now What?” and “Pet-Friendly Attractions.” And some marketing tools are a win–win. By using hashtags such as #Visitpikespeak, Knickerbocker routinely gets the OK to post visitor photos shared on other popular blogs or sites. “Generally, people are excited to see stuff shared—99% of the time.”

Pikes Peak Region by the Numbers*

23 million: Visitors to the area each year

2.25 billion: Dollars spent by visitors in the area annually

56 million: Dollars of local tax revenue generated

17,000+: Area tourism-related jobs (tourism is the city’s third largest employer)

*Per Visit Colorado Springs