This summer, the Colorado Tourism Office’s usual tips for visitors — stick to trails, respect wildlife, scoop up dog poop — come with advice on wearing masks, staying 6 feet way from people and hand washing.
Welcome to vacations in the era of COVID-19.
The tourism office launched a “Care for Coloradans” campaign Thursday. Its latest video features cartoon moose, elk, bears and other creatures urging people to keep their distance from each other, don masks and stay home if they don’t feel well.
“How about a ski between you and me,” a moose on the slopes suggests. “Mask! Keep one in your pocket in case you need to rock it,” is another tip.
“We want to continue to make sure that the health and safety of both residents and visitors are the highest priority,” said Abby Leeper, spokeswoman for the tourism office.
Tourism officials are working closely with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on protocols and guidelines for businesses, communities and visitors as restrictions imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus are eased, Leeper said.
The tourism office welcomed a June 1 executive order by Gov. Jared Polis on the transition from the statewide stay-at-home order to safer at home “or in the great outdoors” while staying away from others as much as possible.
“While we are all still safer at home, we are also able to practice greater social distancing in our great outdoors than in confined indoor spaces,” Polis said when he announced the executive order.
The tourism office’s new initiative includes a new edition of the “Are You Colo-Ready?” brochure. The brochure and animated videos advise visitors on how to dress for the weather and different altitudes, tend to camp fires, keep wildlife wild by not feeding them and leaving no traces in wild places.
The brochure and other information will be available at state visitors’ centers. The centers are still closed, but Leeper said the tourism office is talking to the CDPHE about ways to keep employees and visitors safe when the centers reopen.
As businesses and activities were closed or curtailed when COVID-19 cases began spreading across Colorado, people from other parts of the state were discouraged from visiting the mountains because of concerns that smaller communities wouldn’t have enough resources to respond to outbreaks.
“After the great sacrifices that have been made to protect our state, it’s vitally important to set clear expectations so we can maintain all the gains that have been made and stay on course to reopen Colorado’s tourism economy,” Cathy Ritter, the tourism office director, said in a statement.
In a typical year, the tourism economy in Colorado is big. Travelers spent a record $22.3 billion on trips and vacations in Colorado in 2018, up 6.7% from 2017, the tourism office said.
Tourism was the state’s second-largest employer in 2018 with 174,400 jobs supported by the industry, Leeper said. The number of visitors from the U.S. were 85.2 million and about 1 million from other countries.
The numbers for 2019 will be released soon, Leeper said.
While the 2020 tourism season is anything but typical, business leaders in a couple of Colorado vacation hot spots say things are starting to pick up. Hotels in Eagle County are capped at 50% capacity under rules to stem the spread of coronavirus.
“Many of our hotel partners are telling us they’re reaching that on the weekends, so there’s demand for travel to the mountains from the Front Range and drive markets,” said Chris Romer, president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, a business association.
Eagle County’s request to allow gatherings of up to 50 people was approved by the state health department. The county submitted a request this week seeking approval for gatherings of up to 250 people and 100% occupancy of hotels.
State health officials have granted local governments exemptions from restrictions on size of public gatherings and the number allowed in businesses with the caveat that a rise in cases could result in a return to more stringent safeguards.
Romer said adhering to health guidelines, including social distancing, is required under the variances. He said businesses and tourism offices in the Vail Valley are working together to ensure that everyone knows the appropriate protocols and are conveying the same information to guests.
The information and guidance from the state tourism office complements local communities’ efforts, Romer said. People are calling to see if places are open for business.
“They’ll ask ‘Is there anything for my family to do?’ and the answer here and in many locations around the state is yes,” Romer said.
There’s fly fishing, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, hiking and swimming, Romer said. Many large events, such as music festivals, a staple in the mountains in the summer, have been canceled or postponed.
But producers and organizers are looking at alternatives, including “pop-up” music events in smaller venues, Romer added.
A big boost for the Estes Park was the reopening of Rocky Mountain National Park. The park opened May 27, ending a 10-week shutdown. Park officials are taking a phased approach, limiting the number of people in the park and requiring reservations that have time limits.
Eric Lund said he’s beginning to see more people around the town of Estes Park, a gateway to the national park that logged 4.6 million visits in 2019. Lund is CEO of Visit Estes Park, which promotes the area’s tourism.
Area hotels received an exemption from the state that allows them to operate at full capacity.
“I’ve been talking to some of our lodging partners and they’re starting to sell out on the weekends. That’s a great sign,” Lund said.
He hopes restrictions on the size of gatherings will eventually be loosened because Estes Park is a popular destination for weddings and family reunions. It’s home to the country’s largest YMCA facility, the sprawling YMCA of the Rockies. Limits remain on the number of people who can be in restaurants and stores.
About 5.5 million people visit Estes Park annually, with the largest numbers turning out in the summer and early fall.
“Visitors want to have things to do and they want to be able to enjoy the amenities in the area,” Lund said. “And it’s important that at the same time we keep people healthy and are respectful of being responsible to our local community.”
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