Despite unknowns and cancellations, tourism industry optimistic about visits
Typically two of the best months of business for Elk Run Inn are July and November. The hotel’s owners, Cindy and Randy Looper, get their yearly boosts from touring motorcyclists in July and visiting hunters in November. This year, at least of half of the equation is mostly cancelled.
“After the new increase in COVID cases at the end of June and the beginning of July, our motorcyclists started cancelling,” Randy said. “I was pretty optimistic about our numbers until that started happening.”
One could assume that because of the cancellations of high school graduation, Grand Old West Days, Whittle the Wood and the Balloon Fest due to COVID-19, that visits to the area would be down. Although the second quarter tax data is not out for any official numbers, most tourism-related businesses or organizations in Moffat County noted that despite cancellations and restrictions, travel to Northwest Colorado had not dropped off significantly in 2020. In fact, some entities had seen an increase in visitors.
“This has definitely been our busiest summer,” said Brown’s Park Wildlife Refuge manager Daryl Magnuson.”People that we have talked to are escaping (COVID) hot spots or just wanting to get out of their house for the wide-open spaces we offer.”
Although Moffat County is not considered one of Colorado’s most popular destinations, tourism is still a significant boost to the community. City of Craig Manager Peter Brixius has pointed to a need for Craig to brand itself as a place for people to come visit.
“We are working to make the community a place that is more visitor friendly and focused,” he said. “We put up the way-finding signs this summer to help tourists, or even catch the attention of people initially just passing through.”
The Craig/Moffat Local Marketing District received its funding through an established tax on hotels and travel. Randy Looper is on the board and he said it is hard to know by the numbers they receive because of the inconsistency of when hotels pay their taxes, but he said that due to spring work projects bringing in workers to the area, some hotels have stated that the spring was still decent.
“The workers are keeping my numbers up,” he said. “We have a lot of projects going on.”
Elk Run Inn, as several other hotels, is set up for long-term stays because the rooms have kitchenettes.
Other hotels, like the Craig Hotel, depend more on visitors in town for a day or two. General Manager Shannon Moore said that her numbers and trends were similar to Elk Run Inn, with cancellations picking up lately, most from out-of-state visitors. But:, “overall we have been happy with the bookings we’re seeing daily. I’ve spent a great amount of time talking to guests about why they’re visiting. It has ranged from wild horses, passing through to Yellowstone/ Dinosaur/ Rocky Mountain National Parks/ Monument, industry, getting away from the city, visiting family and random other reasons,” she said.
Craig Chamber of Commerce director Jennifer Holloway said that tracking visitors has been more of a challenge this summer because she and her employees were moving to a new office, but she said her feeling was that visitors from Colorado and nearby states have been consistent, including a recent day in which she had eight different visitors asking for maps and information on the county.
“People from the Front Range have visited us and talked about how they’d never been to our part of the state and wanted to get to a lower population,” she said. “Our expansion to a new building has kept us busy and we hope that our new location will help us to increase our visibility and awareness as people drive through town.”
Holloway noted that from her office, a sign of hope for the future was that hunting inquiries were still going strong.
Moffat County Tourism Director, Tom Kleinschnitz, uses some of the organization’s funding to promote the county through online landing pages. Several of the online partners include the Colorado Tourism Office, Go-Colorado.com and National Parks Media. The data regarding Moffat County inquiries, compared to last year, are mixed. The CTO is down, Go-Colorado is up and NPM is down (with inquiries from Colorado National Parks down, but from Yellowstone up.)
“Overall it has been tough for Colorado with outside tourism,” Kleinschitz said. “Due to the lack of travel the CTO had their budget cut, which may have resulted in that they were not allowed to advertise during the stay-at-home orders. It wasn’t until recently that they were able to promote within the state.”
Local sales tax numbers from 2020 only add to the confusion as to where Craig and Moffat County will stand in revenue. Brixius said that through may the City was up 8.7% in sales tax from the previous year and that numbers were up by 7.83% overall. He attributed the increases to jumps in retail grocery and general retail. Those increases could have come from locals staying home more to make purchases during the stay-at-home orders. Yet, he did hope that some of the community improvements in process or already completed, like the Wave Pool’s resurfacing, the museum opening back up as well as several events that can utilize the area’s open spaces, like the upcoming enduro races and last weekends precision rifle shooting competition can help continue the improvement.
Moore echoed Brixius’ optimism: “I think Craig has an edge over resorts and cities with our vast amount of public lands. I have hopes that the pandemic will actually aid tourism in our region, simply because we’re not stacked on top of each other, and people get to create their own adventure here. At the end of the day, we’re all forging our way through a new normal and we need to stick together and help each other.”
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