In this 2018 file photo, Telluride Tourism Board President and CEO Michael Martelon goes over visitation numbers at his desk. This year, people are already planning travel for the upcoming ski season. (Planet file photo)

One of the Telluride Tourism Board’s 2020 planned campaign words was “Outsider.” Set to debut right before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the word placed next to a beautiful image of the Telluride region was intended to evoke both the incredible access to the outdoors that Telluride offers, as well as its “out of the way” allure. The word never ended up being used.

“We really flipped this summer. Everything we were doing was very inward facing like buying local. We knew we were in a good enough place that people wouldn’t forget us,” said Michael Martelon, the Telluride Tourism Board president and CEO.

This summer that proved true. Although the “Outsider” ad never appeared, the sentiment it hoped to evoke brought travelers to Telluride in higher than expected numbers. Interest in getting outdoors in more remote locations emerged as a nationwide trend this summer.

Signs point to this trend continuing in Telluride into the fall and winter. The tourism board’s occupancy analytics for now until the end of the year show bookings up by 4.8 percent (20.7 percent of all rooms booked, compared to 15.9 percent in 2019). Owner occupancy accounts for a large share of this, although the numbers do not reflect owners who choose not to rent their places. The shift of second homeowners coming more often and staying for longer was a consistent trend throughout the summer.

With most of Telluride’s autumn festivals canceled (Horror Film Festival is still happening but has moved online), the spikes in festival-weekend bookings have been replaced with consistent bookings for the coming months. The average length of stay has also increased by one day compared to last year. Thanksgiving weekend is also up a bit compared to last year.

The Telluride Tourism Board recently invested in occupancy tracking software from Key Data. This software proved essential in providing the community and public health players with vital information for comparing visitor influx with epidemiological metrics.

“At this time last year, we would have been looking at PDFs of all this data.  There was lag time. The new software provides us with numbers that are as close to real time as it gets. It’s been a game-changer,” Martelon said.

Rapid access to accurate bookings data has helped in the management of the pandemic in other resort communities as well. Jackson Hole, Steamboat Springs, Winter Park and Aspen all use the same tracking software.

While bookings for the two final weeks in December — a holiday stretch that is vital to Telluride’s economy — are down compared to last year, Martelon remains optimistic. 

“We’re hoping that will shift as the ski resort announces the specifics of its winter plan. Bookings can jump quickly,” Martelon said. 

In a normal year, the holiday rush relies heavily on air travel. Families come from all over the country and the world to celebrate in the mountains. Recent travel statistics imply that aversion toward air travel may be easing. The Transportation Security Agency recently announced that more travelers flew over Labor Day weekend than at any other time since the pandemic hit in mid-March. 

Indeed, Google trends show that people are planning ski trips even earlier than usual or at least dreaming about snow-dusted travels. The Google search terms “winter travel destination” and “ski lodges and resorts” jumped 30 percent this summer compared to last year. And Telluride looks to be in a good position, according to Google analytics. “Telluride” was the second most searched state ski resort behind “Breckenridge” in recent months.  “Our brand has gotten to a place where it is solid,” Martelon said.