What’s behind the lodging shortage in Craig?

The Best Western Deer Park in west Craig is one of fewer and fewer active hotels in the city, as a number of former inns have converted to long-term rentals.
Cuyler Meade/Craig Press

A local lodging shortage has taken its toll on at least one event in Craig, which leads to the question: What’s causing the shortage of nightly units?

The Vino & Vintage Festival, which was a ticketed event scheduled to take place from Friday, Oct. 7, to Sunday, Oct. 9, has been canceled due to a lack of lodging. Event organizer and downtown business owner Kirstie McPherson reported that there were more than 15 vendors who were unable to find nightly lodging for the weekend. 

Additionally, eight local hotels reported that they have been nearly or fully booked for the past several weeks or months. While there are differences in capacity and operations between lodging establishments, there are some trends shared across the board.

Some possible culprits for the shortage could be a decrease in the number of lodging properties and an influx of construction workers and hunters that are leading to hotels turning people away.

Fewer nightly units in the inventory

Over the past few years, four Craig hotels were taken off the market as nightly rentals to be transitioned into monthly leased units. 

The Elk Run Inn and Colorado Inn & Suites, which are now operating as the Aspen Grove Apartments, are both now serving as long-term housing for local residents. Property Manager Andrea Camp with County Living said that the Elk Run Inn, which has 23 units of varying sizes, is fully rented. 

Aspen Grove has 22 units, which are mostly studios, and Camp said there are typically one or two units available that get rented quickly. 

The former Valley Vista Inn, which is now the Outlook Apartments, is still in the process of transitioning into long-term units. Property Manager Dorina Fredersickon said the owner is currently remodeling, but all of the units that have been remodeled are rented. 

The Deer Valley Apartments, formerly the Bear Valley Inn, has also been turned into long-term rentals, but the property owner declined to comment. Although these long-term rentals have shifted to meet housing needs, it also has reduced the supply for the remaining nightly inventory.

Construction and hunting increase demands

Hotels in Craig have seen an increased demand from project workers coming to town with other properties filling up as hunters return to the area.

Even the smaller hotels like the Best Western with 42 rooms are seeing a heavy demand from both construction and mine workers. 

Workers from the Trans-West electric transmission line — a project anticipated to last through 2022 — are spread across Craig throughout several local hotels. 

There is also an influx of mine workers coming to town for Trapper Mine and a large project at Twenty-Mile utilizing monthly lodging. Additionally, Craig could see an influx of workers coming to town to start building solar farm projects and other coal-alternative energy infrastructure. 

In the beginning of its busy season, the Quality Inn & Suites at 300 Colorado Highway 13 was hosting a lot of workers for the local road construction projects. Now that road construction has begun to wind down, the Quality Inn is seeing more hunters and mine workers. 

“For the past 10 weeks, we either are completely sold out or only have a couple of rooms to sell each night,” said Jaycee Holman, who works the front desk at the Quality Inn.

With 151 rooms, the Quality Inn has the largest inventory of units for hotels in Craig. 

Holman said that even on the days where there are still rooms left to book, they end up selling out by the end of the night. 

Dan Samer, who has owned and operated the Trav-O-Tel Motel since 1993 with his wife, Judy, said that they mainly cater to workers and a few salespeople who come through town.

Samer said he doesn’t see a huge number of tourists staying at the Trav-O-Tel, which has 20 units and modest operations. However, he does often get inquiries from visitors who don’t want to pay the higher prices for hotels at the west end of town or in Steamboat Springs. 

“We of course get hunters who have been with us for over 20 years,” said Samer, who added that “Hunting … is not the big deal it was since 1993 and ‘94.”

He also said that many ranchers have gotten into the mix of hosting hunters on their properties with full-service meals where the hunters get to stay in cabins in the woods. 

“It’s free enterprise,” Samer said. “But it has changed the way the market operates.”

While hunting does play a part in creating no vacancies for local hotels, it was not cited as the biggest factor for most local lodging establishments. Rather, Hampton Inn & Suites Manager Donald Green said that the Hampton has been fully booked every day since May, and about 60% of its business comes from contracts for various construction projects. 

Turning away travelers

Green said they have had to turn people away, especially on the weekends, leaving travelers stuck between going to Steamboat or Vernal, Utah. 

“Steamboat prices are higher, so it puts them in a pinch,” Green said. “Vernal has better pricing, but it’s almost two hours away. It can be a problem when someone becomes road-weary.” 

The Best Western Hotel, Traveler’s Inn, Trav-O-Tel Motel, Super 8 Motel and the Golden Antler Motel all reported having to turn people away on the weekends and during the week because of being fully booked. 

Best Western Assistant Manager Alice Long said that when they have to turn people away, they’ll call other hotels to find they are full too. Long said that Best Western has been fully booked consistently over the past two years, since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. 

Even with few vacancies, Long said she tried to work with local organizations to make room when high school sports teams or the college rodeo comes to town.

Green said he believes the influx of workers is a huge boon to the local economy, with those guests buying all of their meals at restaurants, as well as spending money at local bars and retails stores.

However, with reduced lodging options, and workers filling up a large portion of rooms, travelers looking to Craig to be a stop-over city on their journey aren’t able to get an affordable room.

“We did not see, at our location, as many travelers as previous years,” Green said. “We were full of more workers.” 

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