Promise and optimism surround Glenwood Springs tourism and hospitality sectors

Glenwood Springs is on the up and up, despite economic challenges brought on by the COVID pandemic, according to local business stakeholders and a state economist.

Lisa Langer, director of tourism and promotion for Visit Glenwood Springs, said both national and international travel took a huge hit during the pandemic. That led to a 90% decrease in accommodation tax receipts in April 2020.

“We took a greater hit than other sectors in our economy. With all the restrictions, our attractions were still closed. You can open hotels but what are people coming for?” Langer said during Onward 2021, a virtual discussion organized by the Glenwood Chamber Resort Association where local and state leaders discussed the region’s economy.

Langer said Glenwood Springs didn’t lag as badly as other tourist locations in the state.

Now, there’s pent up demand to travel and explore, Langer said.

“One of the best silver linings we could’ve had is Hanging Lake was not burnt up,” Langer said, noting that permits to visit the local tourist destination will become available on April 1.

Steve Nilsson, general manager of Glenwood Springs Ford, said the pandemic forced the closure of the dealership’s showroom for a month in spring 2020.

“The other real challenge that we ran into was inventory. The factories closed down for 60 days. In the midst of the pandemic, all the sudden our inventories shrunk very rapidly,” Nilsson said. “After a few months we were down about 25 percent of what our inventory actually was. Our service department stayed open the entire time, they were considered essential.”

Nilsson said the lack of inventory has spurred a demand for used vehicles.

“That’s very, very rare in what we do,” Nilsson said.

Nilsson said people are looking to purchase personal transportation after becoming wary of mass transit during the pandemic.

“People are more comfortable in the environment of their own car,” Nilsson said.

“We’re very very positive about the year in front of us. People are putting more cash down. They’re putting bigger and bigger amounts of cash down when they come to see us. There is pent up demand like crazy,” Nilsson said.

Mark Gould Jr., of Gould Construction, said the construction company saw a 40% drop in revenue.

Gould said health and safety measures took a lot of work off the table, especially hotel facility and other commercial work.

Investors did begin seeing the need of people wanting to live in Glenwood Springs, so residential projects are now starting to come back online, Gould said.

“We bid 300% more projects than typical this year. We bid everything rather than picking and choosing. We honest to God bid a job for the city of Glenwood for $27,000,” Gould said.

Gould’s main concerns were keeping people safe in the field and getting them to and from worksites.

“Obviously, you don’t get a lot of construction done with one person,” Gould said.

Gould said he’s also nervous about what the construction workforce looks like.

“The people that build affordable housing can’t afford to live here. I’m a little nervous about what our workforce looks like. There are fewer labor participants. As we come back are they still here and willing to participate? We need to be a community, there are going to be interesting conversations.”

Richard Wobbekind, senior economist and associate dean for business and government relations at the University of Colorado Boulder, gave a statewide perspective on Colorado’s economy.

“The employment part is not coming back as rapidly as the (Gross Domestic Product). I feel like it’s going to happen in 2022, but given how steep the job loss was, we’re still down 9 million jobs. There are a lot of jobs to make up,” Wobbekind said.

Wobbekind said most of those job losses are in the services and hospitality sectors.

“This is where getting people out, getting vaccines out and getting people into normal life is really going to help leisure and hospitality,” Wobbekind said.

More females than males are unemployed as a result of the pandemic.

“It’s much more likely, 2 to 1 that the woman is the primary provider in the household as far as child care and education. They’re calling this the ‘she’ session because it’s had a greater impact on women than it has men,” Wobbekind said.

“Health services, social assistance, hotels, restaurants, a lot of those sectors are also over represented by a female labor source.”

Wobbekind said when there’s lower capacity at restaurants, people will spend their money on other things.

“When we see this March payment people are going to start spending this money on services, and I think they’re going to spend it on tourism. Starting in April, May or June,” he said.

Gov. Jared Polis briefly spoke at the end of the virtual discussion, saying that he’s excited that the state’s economy is primed to come back.

“Many parts of the colorado economy are recovering. I think we’re in for a very strong year in tourism as the pandemic ends,” Polis said.

“I think families across the country and world are getting cabin fever. For many folks who had stable jobs, that’s all recreational money.”

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