As snow starts to dust the mountainsides, and Summit County begins prepping for ski season, it makes it hard to think of warm summer days. The summer months in Colorado mountain towns have historically caused a struggle within the tourism industry. Posing the question, how do you attract visitors to the mountains in the summer?
Fortunately for Coloradans, the worker bees in the tourism industry have been setting their minds to fixing this problem. And their work is paying off.
Denver-based DestiMetrics measures lodging statistics in the summer months from May to October. According to its data, mountain towns across six states are set to break summer records for the fifth year in a row.
For many mountain towns trying to find ways to market summer tourism meant changing the entire structure.
“Trying to run a 12 month budget off of three or four busy months during the winter was not necessarily the soundest business plan,” said Tom Foley, the operations director at DesitMetrics.
The season isn’t over yet, but the company said that as of Aug. 31, regional occupancy is up 7.3 percent from this time last year, and revenue is also up a stunning 14.7 percent.
In Summit County, towns like Dillon, Silverthorne and Breck consider July and August to be their strongest summer months.
Barb Richard, a marketing manager with Summit Resort Groups, said that Dillon has always had a strong summer season because of the lake and marina. But even Dillon is seeing increased travel numbers. She said that a combination of cheap gas and a good economy is fueling the fire for people wanting to travel. According to Richard, this led to double-digit growth for the resort’s properties in Dillon for June, July and August.
“August finished very strong compared to prior years,” she said.
Richard said that one of the biggest impacts for summer numbers is a shortening shoulder season. People are usually unsure of mountain weather in the months before July and after August. But lately even these months are doing well.
Bill Wishowski, the director of operations for the Breckenridge Tourism Office said that most of their growth is coming from weekday guests. He added that the town has been seeing steady growth since 2011 and that this summer is not an exception.
New construction and more places to stay could also be impacting the numbers. Some of these newer facilities, like the Hampton Inn in Silverthorne, which opened in December of 2015, don’t yet have the data to see if summers are a growing trend, but are optimistic about the future.
The hotel is operated and managed by Denver-based Silverwest Hotels through a franchise agreement with Hilton. Ed Mace, Silverwest’s president and CEO joked that if you want to look at trends, you’ll have to check in with him next year.
But things are looking good.
“We had a great summer. The business was as good, or better, than we could have expected for our first year,” Mace said.
Mace has been in the industry for 30 years and previously worked with Vail Resorts. His familiarity with resort towns made him realize that tourism numbers are not only good for the local economy, but can also be a stabilizer for seasonal workers as well.
“It’s good because we’re able to attract and hold employees who aren’t just dependent on four months a year. With more months in the year in this business, the service employees … have a chance to come and stay in the market and work full time rather than having to migrate in just for the winter and back out again,” Mace said.
Employee turnover and quiet shoulder seasons can put a strain on businesses in the community. During the slow months, shops may not see as much business, causing what Breckenridge Town Councilwoman Erin Gigiello calls a “feast or famine economy.”
“I think it’s important to continue an open dialogue with businesses to see how the town and the Breckenridge Tourism Office can help manage our guests to alleviate strain. I also know turnover can cause challenges in our businesses as well. My hope is that more consistent success and steady, year-round income, will help cut down on turnover in our workforce,” she said.