Despite the cancellation of the summer’s festival season, Telluride and surrounding communities have been bustling with tourism this summer as visitors from Denver to Dallas have sought a breath of fresh air during a stressful year. At the mid-July evaluation during which a jump from 50 to 75 percent was considered, county officials and public health experts examined the county’s coronavirus metrics and chose to remain at a 50 percent lodging cap for hotels and short-term lodging.
While the outlook on the virus has improved locally since then, with a tapering of new cases and zero active cases among county residents as of press time Friday, industry professionals are expecting to remain at a 50 percent cap.
“Now that bookings for the coming months are looking to be far less than the 50 percent maximum capacity, we do not see a need to increase the capacity to 75 percent,” said San Miguel County Manager Mike Bordogna. “Low rates of virus incidence and spread, high abilities to test and treat sick patients and ample conduct contact tracing abilities would be factors that might allow us to lift such restrictions. While we have already increased the testing and tracing capacities, we cannot control where our visitors come from or where our residents choose to go visit, nor can we instantly enlarge our local medical capacity to treat ill patients.”
With the new school year just beginning, maintaining lodging restrictions at conservative levels also aimed to avoid an outbreak that would cause parents to remain home from work.
“Given that we had higher than desired positivity rates for the period, our local treatment capacity is low and schools were about to open, it did not seem wise to add additional visitor capacity to our communities,” Bordogna said. “If we were to have a preventable school outbreak, it would impact not only the students and teachers, but the parents that are our workforce and take them out of the ability to keep coming to work for the last important part of our summer tourism economy.”
Lodging industry professionals expect that remaining at a 50 percent capacity limit won’t cause further hardships for lodging providers this summer, given that the historically busiest weeks of the season have passed. Yet despite long lines at restaurants and a generally busy feeling this summer season, the lodging industry has felt the hit, according to Larry Mallard, CEO of Alpine Lodging.
“June numbers were way down,” he noted. “They ended up at approximately 50 percent of what we are used to having. However, July and August ended up being flat from a revenue perspective so lodgers are relieved by that. With the loss of the three September festivals — Telluride Film Festival, Blues and Brews Festival, and Cars and Colors Festival — the remainder of the year is currently pacing worse than any other period during the pandemic. We’ve seen a robust and shortened booking pattern in terms of when the reservation is booked; however, we don’t believe the remainder of the year will come close to historical revenues during the final four months.”
Despite the hit in revenue, Mallard noted that local lodging providers have been supportive of county decisions, with safety for guests and locals as the top priority.
Throughout the week, the county’s COVID-19 data is assessed by Public Health Director Grace Franklin and county officials using the four metrics of transmission, treatment, testing and tracing capacities, which are then used to determine risk management strategies.
“According to current lodging forecasts, demand is going to below 50 percent through the fall, so the current cap may stay in place,” said County Commissioner Lance Waring, who serves on the lodging committee. “Bottom line: that is Ms. Franklin’s call,” he said.
County officials recognized the difficulties imposed on the lodging community as the county navigated the challenges of the pandemic this spring and summer.
“We would like to thank our lodging community for the sacrifice that they made this summer season — forming a self-policing committee with the county, forgoing profits in their time to capitalize on visitors and for their patience with the county regulations,” Bordogna said. “We realize that this is not an exact tool in controlling visitation and that it created hardships for some of our lodgers. That was and is not our intent. Without their help, we may not have been able to keep the residents and visitors of San Miguel County as safe as we were able to this spring and summer.”