Telluride Tourism Board CEO Michael Martelon describes the ebbs and flows of the Telluride area economy using terms like “wave” and “rattle and hum.”
Inside his office abutting Elks Park is a line chart that tracks the area’s daily population year over year. Several colored lines overlap to create a picture reminiscent of Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures” album art. Martelon uses wastewater treatment plant statistics to calculate the numbers, he said, which include Telluride, Mountain Village, Lawson Hill and the Aldasaro Ranch Subdivision.
“It gives us a really good idea of what’s happening here,” he said. “There’s a scientific formula to the conversion of solid waste, which gives us our population.” Basically, it’s how many times toilets flush.
This summer has no doubt been busy, Martelon said, as the total number of people in the area reached 403,508 in July, a 7 percent increase from 2017. That number includes full-time residents, he added, which are counted for every day they’re here. For example, in July, a full-time resident would have counted 31 times in the overall total. However, the average summer visitation number, which includes day-trippers and vacationers, is 211,228, according to 2017 statistics. Martelon said summer 2018 numbers won’t be available and crunched until late October at the earliest, but the average shouldn’t spike drastically one way or the other.
“We were really lucky with the wildfires this summer. I think we may have missed some Durango residents because they went further, and we ended up benefitting from some folks anticipating traveling to Durango and decided to make Telluride a stop,” he said, referring to the 416 Fire that has burned over 50,000 acres in the San Juan National Forest 13 miles north of Durango.
In terms of overall tourism, which includes lodging, restaurant and retail revenue, June and July were up 4.9 and 2.2 percent, respectively, compared to 2017.
The occupancy rate for managed properties in Mountain Village and Telluride during those two months was around 65 percent, which is within single digits of 2017, Martelon explained. The average daily rate for managed properties was $310 for July, a $30 increase over last year.
“When you look at the numbers, we may have been up year over year single digits, or an average of just under 1,000 people per day,” he said, “but we’ve been busier in years past. We’re getting to the point that flat to slightly up is what we want. That’s the goal.”
The fluctuation in tourism is the “wave we live,” he added.
The question was posed, “Given the consistent visitation numbers recently, does Telluride still need to be advertised as much as before?”
Martelon answered that marketing such a popular mountain destination is a “hum and rattle” scenario in which the brand that is Telluride compliments the local tourism industry in its efforts to attract visitors.
He explained, “We are communicating the brand. We are not marketing come here for this great rate or that great rate. You need the hum. The hum is the brand and the overarching promises of the brand. The rattle is the tactical stuff. It’s really about trying to get you to book something right now. … We’re the hum. The lodgers are the rattle.”
Ongoing marketing efforts are necessary, he said, citing a 1993 case study. The study found that after Colorado eliminated its $12 million marketing budget, the state dropped from being the No. 1 summer resort destination in the country to No. 17.
Martelon calls tourism the area’s “single and only gross domestic product.”
“I’ve said that we are unbelievably diversified on the back of tourism. It’s wonderful the things that we have here,” he said, adding the array of festivals in town is unrivaled. “It’s unbelievable that we have them in such a small community. We’re able to have them because they end up becoming amenities for what is our visitor.”
Boutique Air resuming commercial air service at Telluride Regional Airport this week will “absolutely” aid tourism, too, he added. Colorado Flights Alliance COO Matt Skinner has called Boutique, which is offering two daily flights to and from Denver, “a great fit for our destination” in a previous interview with the Daily Planet.
As for August and September, the last two summer months, Martelon believes occupancy rates will remain steady. There also are plans to roll out a new winter marketing campaign, which will be revealed at a later date.
“You still have to convince people that it’s worthwhile,” he said of the marketing game.