Glenwood springs into big-time tourism | AspenTimes.com

Glenwood springs into big-time tourism

The six-person Iron Mountain Tramway carries riders 4,300 linear feet to the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

Crawling through the Glenwood Caverns on hands and knees, deep inside Iron Mountain, it’s hard to believe you’re in one of Colorado’s most touristy towns. But you are. And that, in a nutshell, is the appeal of Glenwood Springs.”On the one hand, we’ve got all the tourist town trimmings,” said Janet Rippy, interim vice president of tourism and marketing for the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association. “And on the other hand, we’ve got the lure of a remote mountain town.”

It is an increasingly successful marriage for Aspen’s downvalley neighbor: Taking natural amenities, like the Hot Springs Pool and Glenwood Caverns, and building a destination resort around them.”Obviously, if we can extend people’s stays by offering them more things to do at an price they can afford, it is to the advantage of everyone in the tourism industry here,” said Kjell Mitchell, COO and general manager of the Hot Springs Lodge and Pool “We all want all of Glenwood Springs to be successful.”

Steve Beckley, owner of the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park agrees. “We all have to work together. The more people we attract, the better it is for everyone in Glenwood Springs.”Of course the kicker is keeping it all affordable, which is something Glenwood seems to have a handle on. “We’re an affordable family destination. It may sound clichéd, but it’s true,” said Rippy.

It’s also important. According to an October 2004 Aspen Chamber Resort Association study on summer visitors, “Creating an affordable experience is even more important this year than in the past. … many visitors indicate that the ‘expense’ of an Aspen vacation is the main barrier to them becoming ‘Huge Fans’ of the area.”Not so in Glenwood.

“Relax. You’ve Got Options” is the Glenwood chamber’s catch phrase. And perusing the town’s list of attractions it rings true: rafting, biking, shopping, dining, swimming … the list goes on and on.”But we’re more than that,” said Rippy. “Yes, Glenwood Springs is a tourist town, but we are different than so many other tourist towns. We are unique in the variety of things there are to do here and, of course, the setting can’t be beat.”Swinging high over Glenwood Canyon on the Glenwood Caverns Swing Shot, with the Colorado River below and nothing but blue sky above, the “setting” is indeed breathtaking. As are many of the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park’s offerings, from the awe-inspiring caverns themselves to the rides that comprise the adventure park”We needed to make sure we could have repeat visitors,” said Beckley, who with his wife Jeanne reopened the caverns in 1999 after they were closed to the public for 82 years. Three years later they completed the 4,300-foot-long Iron Mountain Tramway, which carries visitors up to the cavern entrance and the Exclamation Point restaurant. The thrill rides were added this summer.

“You can only tour the caves so much … we wanted to branch out to make it a family experience.”Beckley chose to mesh the cavern’s natural wonder with man’s need for speed. The Swing Shot, for example, hurtles riders out over Glenwood Canyon, some 1,300 feet above the Colorado River; on the Canyon Flyer, riders race down downhill on an twisting alpine coaster; Alpine Rush sends its riders skimming the treetops down a zip line. And all these attractions are reached via the Iron Mountain Tramway.”When we were choosing these attractions, we wanted things that would fit in with the mountain town experience,” said Beckley. “We weren’t trying to create a Disneyland; we didn’t want it to be too amusement parklike. But we wanted – and needed – to include things with wide appeal.”

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The Beckleys in 2001 received the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Tourism Initiative. Still, one of Beckley’s main missions with the park is educational. He even has plans for an observatory/planetarium to be built “as soon as cash allows.”If this summer is any indicator, that could be sooner than later. According to Beckley, business has been booming, and he has high hopes for busy winter season, too.”If we can attract Aspen and Vail skiers who are taking the day off of skiing, it will really pay off,” he said. “Summer is our season, but we can really capitalize on our neighboring towns in winter.”

At the Hot Springs Lodge and Pool, a longtime favorite with tourists, business has remained steady – and good. On any summer day, the pools are dotted with bobbing heads and the grass is covered towel to towel with sunbathers.”We have an incredibly high number of repeat visitors,” said Mitchell. “And like Glenwood Springs in general, our guests tend to be from Denver-metro area and the Front Range.”According to an Internet survey conducted by the Glenwood Chamber, 74 percent of visitors were from Colorado. The survey also showed that 37 percent of respondents visited Glenwood Springs once in the summer; 31 percent had visited two to four times.

By contrast, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association reports only 47.8 percent of its visitors are from Western states. Many Aspen guests are repeat customers, however. Almost half of Aspen’s visitors said they, too, had visited Aspen earlier in the year.”We’re far enough away that it feels like a vacation, but not so far that people are hindered in getting here for a weekend,” said Mitchell.

Glenwood’s myriad attractions don’t operate in a vacuum. In fact, the town’s marketing effort is a well-oiled machine led by a newly created tourism board. Comprising representatives from the Hot Springs Pool, Glenwood Caverns, the local chamber, lodging and other service industries, the board is charged with giving the town a “branding presence.” In other words, shaping Glenwood’s economic future.”The idea in creating this board was that we wanted to be more forward-thinking and to have more control over the direction of our marketing efforts,” said Rippy.Still in the early stages, a comprehensive marketing plan has been discussed but not implemented. And while “maybe we’ll decide to do something completely different,” all indicators are that Glenwood Springs will continue to market itself as an “affordable family destination.”It is a smart move, especially considering Aspen seems to have a lock on attracting older, wealthier visitors. The Aspen chamber study reported Aspen visitors tend to be an “Empty Nest crowd. That is, they are older, married and less likely to have dependent children at home”; the study’s authors encourage Aspen to diversify its visitor mix by targeting the family market.

“The family part of the equation is important, the affordable aspect is huge, but we’re more than that,” said Rippy. “Glenwood Springs is unique among tourist towns, and that’s what we’re selling.”And how they’re selling it seems to be working. “Technology is impacting the way we market Glenwood Springs,” said Rippy. “We are definitely beefing up our Internet presence.”

From May 3 to July 1, http://www.glenwoodchamber.org had 56,000 unique daily visitors. “That is a lot, it’s awesome,” said Rippy, who won’t rest on her laurels until Glenwood Springs pops to the top whenever a family searches the Internet for summer family fun. But, Rippy is quick to add, “we’re not putting all of our eggs in one basket.” Print advertising, aggressive public relations – the town has been featured on television and in dozens of national magazines this summer alone and has been named “America’s No. 1 Hottest Place to Cool Off” by Discovery’s Travel Channel for four years running – and an award-winning glossy visitors guide is also in place. It is a comprehensive marketing effort that is made possible through an accommodation tax. Implemented in 1999, the tax raises $510,000 annually for the town’s marketing efforts. It is money well-spent.

This year, the chamber’s goal was to raise accommodation tax collections by 7 percent; as of May, collections were up 10.5 percent. Tourism officials also wanted to raise sales tax collections by 2 percent; by May, they were up 3.5 percent. “And it’s only going to get better,” said Rippy, noting the planned fall opening of Glenwood Meadows, a mammoth retail development that will include a Target and Lowe’s, and is expected to draw people from the entire region. “That will definitely boost sales tax revenues for Glenwood Springs.”We have been very successful this year, and I believe with our new focus it’s just going to get better and better.” Jeanne McGovern’s e-mail address is jmcgovern@aspentimes.com

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