Summer tourism got off to a hot and fast start this year, with local industry experts reporting a better season than 2014.
Kelly Kirkpatrick, director of local tourism marketing arm Mesa Verde County, says lodgers tax figures from May, June and July were up by at least 13 percent compared with 2014. But it was April that saw a 14 percent increase.
“Overall, we had a really strong showing,” said Kirkpatrick. “The season started off early this year, with lodgers reporting a higher than normal spring, which translated positively into summer. I think mild weather, low gas prices, a stronger economy, and just general interest in our area have contributed.”
Summer is generally considered to be the busiest time of the year for those traveling the U.S. by car, and according to estimates from AAA, millions are taking advantage of lower gas prices to travel more this year.
Recent estimates by the Federal Highway Administration showed that U.S. drivers logged an average of 1.54 trillion miles during the first half of 2015 alone, an all-time high.
The challenge for the local tourism industry is to make Cortez stand out among the array of options domestic travelers have, and large part of that for Mesa Verde Country has been improving its presence on the Internet.
After streamlining design and making some tweaks to the functionality of the Mesa Verde Country website, Kirkpatrick says the site has seen a 136 percent increase in traffic, and analysis has indicated that some of the most commonly searched things include lodging, local attractions, and cultural offerings outside of the national park.
DeDe Hodge, of Retro Inn on Main Street, says the kitschy Cortez motel has seen one of its strongest summers since new ownership took over two years ago.
“We’ve been sold out all summer, and are sold out again this weekend. We’ve been very busy,” said Hodge.
The motel has been climbing the ranks on the popular online travel guide, Tripadvisor.com, she said. Hodge said the site plays a vital role in referrals and generating interest in bookings.
Lainey Beyhan, of Dolores River Campground, said bookings and reservations this summer were up 20 percent compared with 2014.
“We’ve been here three years now, and this has been one of our busiest summers so far,” said Beyhan.