It seems as if it will take more than a pandemic to keep the region’s visitors away. Telluride and the surrounding region, despite numerous restrictions surrounding dining, lodging and event sectors — all key components to a healthy tourism economy — seem to be faring well, all things considered.
The Economic Recovery Committee (ERC) was formed to work on ways to invigorate the local economy, a task they’ve undertaken working in partnership with San Miguel County public health officials and municipal leaders. As state and local officials cautiously ease restrictions surrounding the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the group convened Friday to report the newest developments in various segments of the economy — those developments were largely positive, though not without concerns.
Telluride Ski and Golf Co. CEO, Bill Jensen, chairs the committee. The summer season’s economic activity, he said, was encouraging.
“What we’re seeing in our community right now is a level of economic activity that’s very reassuring,” he said.
Still, he noted that a surge in new coronavirus cases in two states that are significant target markets — Texas and Arizona — could present challenges as an employer.
“As an employer, I worry most about our employees,” Jensen said.
And he expressed optimism that the ski area — shuttered in March by orders issued by Governor Jared Polis — would reopen for the 2020-21 season. That historic order from the state is one that Jensen said state officials have since realized will be better left to ski country counties to decide going forward. But, without a vaccine, much remains unknown.
“Until we get a vaccine, we have no idea how Covid will impact us, health-wise and economy-wise,” he said.
Reports from numerous members of the ERC echoed Jensen’s positive tone.
“There has been collective relief with the level of spending in the county,” said Telluride Tourism Board (TTB) president and CEO Michael Martelon.
Keith Hampton, representing the lodging community said the phased opening, and subsequent monitoring, has been going well. Barring an inability to meet the requirements of Testing, Treating, Tracking and Transmission — a metric public health officials use to determine whether it is safe to continue easing restrictions — lodgers will be able to operate at 75 percent capacity beginning July 13. June 1, Hampton reported, began “a slow and careful reopening,” at 25 percent capacity, which increased to 50 percent capacity June 22. Lodging numbers are tracked on a daily basis — as of Friday’s meeting, the county’s lodging numbers were at 38 percent.
“We’re well below the target right now,” he said, though the July 4 weekend looks more robust.
“We may need to close out reservations” if bookings look to go beyond what’s allowed per county public health orders.
But should an outbreak occur, county manager Mike Bordogna cautioned that the county’s ability to conduct contact tracing on large numbers would be a challenge.
“(Lodging) is not likely to go above 75 percent,” he said.
Still he praised members of the lodging sector for their diligence in tracking and communicating.
“You’ve helped this whole industry stay on the right trajectory,” he said.
Martelon said that complaints or concerns about lodging can be emailed to the sector’s oversight group at firstname.lastname@example.org. Complaints are addressed without delay, he said.
“We act immediately,” Martelon told the group.
Mountain Village, reported Mountain Village Town Council member Dan Caton, is enjoying success with its Common Consumption Area, which allows visitors to amble the core’s spacious plazas with adult beverages from participating liquor licensed establishments. New furniture and umbrellas will be delivered soon, making Mountain Village a “welcoming area,” he said.
Todd Brown, Telluride’s Mayor Pro Tem, said that the town’s legal and clerical offices have been busy processing applications from businesses off Colorado Avenue wishing to extend their respective liquor licenses onto town right of ways in order to increase capacity while keeping in compliance with social distancing guidelines, reporting there were 17 new applications. And, he said, the town’s sales tax collections have been encouraging.
“Our non-Telluride Bluegrass Festival sales taxes are very close to typical levels this time of year,” Brown said. “Our locals, part-time locals and visitors are here in force. So far, so good.”
New Sheridan properties general manager, Ray Farnsworth, said the demand “is there. It’s high. We’ll be as busy as we allow ourselves to be.”
Those properties, including The Phoenix Bean, the historic Sheridan Bar, the hotel and the Chop House Restaurant are all open as of Friday.
Farnsworth expressed concern about having employees shared with other employers and said keeping staff healthy would be a challenge, even given the New Sheridan’s health protocols.
It was a concern that county public health director Grace Franklin had spoken to earlier in the meeting. A recent uptick in cases — both local and visitor positives — made her aware of just how tightly knit a community Telluride is. There are currently 11 active coronavirus cases for a total of 35 as of press time. (The newest case was reported at 3 p.m. Friday.)
“We’re feeling comfortable to move forward (with lodging capacity increases), but it’s become clear how intertwined our community is,” she said.
The new cases were both symptomatic and asymptomatic. “Overall, people are OK.”
There are 105 pending tests, and she reported an uptick in contact tracing, as well as an increased interest from the public in getting tested.
And, the Board of County Commissioners voted at its Wednesday meeting that current emergency public health orders would remain in effect through August, rather than re-upping the measure at the end of July.
“We know we’re not going to be out of this by August,” TTB’s Martelon said.
Representing festival promoters, SBG Production’s Courtney McClary Yug said that the Telluride Horror Show, usually held in October, is making strides toward offering those films in a virtual format, similar to what Mountainfilm offered its passholders. And she said that on Wednesday, SBG Productions would be announcing its plans for Telluride Blues and Brews Festival and the Durango Blues Train events, slated for later this summer.