TC III

This image from Colorado Flights Alliance CEO Matt Skinner’s recent presentation to Telluride Town Council depicts a number of different recovery scenarios, the tourism industry grapples with a return to business post-COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy image)

Telluride Town Council heard from two area leaders who each offered a realistic view of what to expect for economic recovery this summer and beyond. At council’s Tuesday meeting, Matt Skinner, CEO of Colorado Flights Alliance (CFA), and Telluride Ski & Golf CEO, Bill Jensen, outlined a forecast of an economic future clouded by the COVID-19 pandemic. And while they both expressed guarded optimism, it is clear that the road back to a formerly robust tourism industry will be a long one.

Skinner’s presentation included a number of scenarios for economic recovery. The shortest way back was depicted by a sharp, V-shaped trajectory, one he said was not likely.

“A quick, V-shaped recovery is probably passing by,” he told council.

Instead, he said, it would be more reasonable to expect a longer timeframe.

“It’s more likely it will be six to eight quarters of trying to get back to the ballpark of 100 percent recovery,” Skinner said.

The summer season, he said, would be characterized by more visitors driving, rather than flying, as airlines are currently in crisis mode. CFA, he explained, was not paying for flights that never get in the air, and added the organization’s healthy relationship with its airline partners, meant that re-establishment of the usual flights to the area would likely resume “quicker than the norm.”

With travel restricted, Skinner said the only people flying currently were healthcare workers and those flying to address family emergencies.

“There is no leisure or business traffic right now,” he said. “There is no rush to get back to flying.”

The impacts to the local and regional economy, which is largely tourism dependent, will be significant, according to material he shared. There will be a 50 percent decrease in flights from hubs like Dallas, Houston and Chicago, while flights from Denver will increase in late June.

“This is not the summer to have a large inventory,” Skinner said.

Telski’s Jensen said the winter season was robust and exhibited good numbers until state orders were issued to close Colorado’s ski areas in an effort to curb the rise of coronavirus.

“We were having a really good season,” Jensen said. Telski, he added, set a skier visitation record in January and February. “We were on a bit of a roll.”

The resort has since had to furlough 380 of its full-time employees. Jensen explained that with a total of 1,356 employees, Telski did not qualify for a Payroll Protection Program loan.

“We just didn’t have a choice,” Jensen said of the furloughs.

The plan for the summer for Telluride businesses will be to serve the second-homeowner and regional drive market. Jensen predicted that revenues for the resort alone would be down 50 to 70 percent. Second-homeowners, he said, would be primary customers, as “they perceive this as a very safe place to be. We have a lot of space to recreate and Telluride is an attractive destination.”

This summer, Jensen reported Telski would be operating the bike park, which will be open June 26 through Labor Day, though it would operate at a $250,000 loss.

“We’re doing it for the local community,” he said. “We want to give people the opportunity to get a mental health break.”

The golf club, too, will be open, though to members only with strict social distancing protocols in place. Neither the pro shop nor the clubhouse will be open and only one person per golf cart will be permitted.

Like Skinner, Jensen’s presentation was one of modest hope, tempered with sobering projections. Given that Colorado’s Tourism Office (CTO) recently launched a campaign aimed at discouraging out-of-state visitors, both Jensen’s and Skinner’s projections could play out as depicted. 

In an Associated Press story earlier this week, CTO department director, Cathy Ritter said, “There definitely is a resolve within the tourism industry to be ready. To hit the restart button if the conditions are right. But I think there’s also an understanding and a resignation to the fact that day may not come this summer.”

 “We’ve got to survive this,” Jensen concluded. “This is a challenging time for all of us.”

Telluride Town Council is meeting via Zoom every Tuesday until further notice. For more information and to view Skinner’s PowerPoint presentation, visit telluride-co.gov.