Campgrounds and businesses in south central Colorado are reporting uncertain summer tourism projections and evidence Coloradans are staying close to home, according to The Mountain Mail, Salida, Colo.
“Our phone calls have been really slow for this time of year,” Ann Ewing, visitor information specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, said. “Usually the phone is ringing off the hook already. But not this year — yet.”
Although Ewing takes solace in recurring group reservations such as Scout troops and church groups, she hopes things are just off to a slow start.
“Last year it started slowly too, but then it exploded,” Ewing said. “The economy is uncertain right now. Families are rethinking all their vacation plans.
“We’re getting indications we will have more Colorado residents exploring our forests and parks rather than tourists from across the country. We are like the backyard for the front range.”
Ewing advises travelers planning a July visit to make camping reservations “as soon as humanly possible.”
“We almost always sell out completely in July. The other months are more unpredictable.”
Sarah and Tommy Martin, owners of KOA-Buena Vista campgrounds, said their phones are ringing and reservations are filling the books.
“It’s looking good. We feel like we’re going to have a good season,” Sarah said. “It seems to us the economy is bouncing back. Camping is one of the most inexpensive ways to vacation, so it looks good for the camping industry.”
The KOA has recreational vehicle spaces, cabins and campsites and began taking reservations Jan. 1.
“So far our call volume has been better than last year. July will be booked solid. Even last year with the economy so far down, we didn’t have any vacancies in July.”
Sarah said she is seeing “definite evidence” more Coloradoans are vacationing in state this year.
Connie Troutman, general manager at Holiday Inn Express in Salida, said she feels it will be a “pretty good summer.”
Things will be “much improved,” compared to last summer, John Engelbrecht, executive director of Heart of the Rockies Chamber of Commerce, predicted.
“I’m optimistic about this summer, but I’m also a realist,” Engelbrecht said. “I think we’re still in a recession and people are cautious about spending money. That being said, I think we’re in a good position here because we are affordable, close and fun.
“We happen to be located in one of the premier recreation places in the state. A lot of places have a ski area, but we also have the river. We’re one of the few places where you can experience multiple adventures — hiking, biking, rafting, kayaking, climbing 14ers — in the span of a few days, and still get an affordable hotel room,” he said.
Engelbrecht said Chaffee County Visitor’s Bureau, the Board of Realtors and the chamber of commerce combined efforts this year to run more than a thousand 15-second ads on Comcast showcasing county charms.
He said many other businesses like rafting companies, promote the area well, too. Festivals like Art Walk, FIBArk and Colorado Brewer’s Fest, also attract tourists.
“We just need to get them here, then make sure we treat them right while they’re here. They’ll keep coming back,” he said.