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Local tourism unshaken by attacks

Lynn BurtonStaff Writer

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have had little if any effect on Glenwood Springs tourism according to industry experts, because most visitors don’t rely on air travel to get here.”Our numbers were up last fall and into May,” said Marianne Virgili, director of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association. “I don’t think we saw an effect. We’re a market for Denver and the Front Range, and people drive here.”Accommodation tax receipts, which can be used to help gauge the local tourist industry, were up an average 7 percent from January through May 2002 compared to the same period in 2001.Those numbers plummeted in June and July, when wildfires and drought kept tourists away from Glenwood Springs. June’s lodging tax was down 13.8 percent and July’s was down 5.8 percent from the same months in 2001.”In 17 years here, this year has been the most challenging,” Virgili said.Unlike some destination resorts, most tourists to Glenwood Springs arrive by car, train or tour bus rather than by air. Last September’s terrorist attacks halted air travel nationwide, and when air travel resumed it was often difficult to fly. And many people chose to stay close to home rather than climb aboard an airplane.Sunlight Mountain Resort, which relies on Front Range skiers and out-of-state groups that drive in, saw a slight decrease in skier days. But it was less than the 4 percent drop reported at resorts statewide by Colorado Ski Country USA.”We were down about 1 percent, but we were pleased with that,” said Turi Nevin-Turkel, Sunlight’s marketing and sales director.Although total skier visits were down, Sunlight posted a 31 percent gain in sales from its ski/swim/stay package.”People decided to stay close to home,” Nevin-Turkel said. “Airline travel was down. … Sunlight is an affordable ski area people can drive to.”Nevin-Turkel said Colorado Ski Country USA considers Sunlight a destination ski area like Aspen or Vail because of its distance from the Front Range. “We fared better than any of the destination resorts,” Nevin-Turkel said. “Others that rely on air travel saw decreases of 4 to 8 percent.”Glenwood Springs’ newest tourist attraction saw a whopping 38 percent increase in business this May compared to last May. Then the wildfires hit.”It was shaping up to be a wonderful summer,” said Steve Beckley, owner of the Glenwood Caverns, located just north of the Hotel Colorado.Like others in the tourist industry, Beckley was reluctant to say that the terrorist attacks actually helped business because Front Range tourists wanted to stay close to home.But he acknowledged that the driving vacation option made Glenwood Springs attractive.”We’re a drive destination,” he said. “People don’t have to fly. We’re three hours from Denver. We’re in a perfect spot.”Beckley said his business was hit hardest in June, then picked up some in July and August. He expects visits will be down about 10 percent from last year when he closes in November.At Glenwood Springs’ other major tourist attraction, the Hot Springs Lodge & Pool, general manager Kjell Mitchell echoes others in their observations about Sept. 11.”We’re in a somewhat better position than a convention center that relies on air travel,” Mitchell said. “America has decided to drive in post 9/11, and that has helped us from that standpoint.”Virgili said it’s hard to gauge how 9/11 and the economic downturn might affect the local economy into 2003.”Colorado as a whole lags behind the rest of the economy, but our recovery is slower, too,” Virgili said. “But Glenwood Springs is very resilient. Our market could come back stronger than ever.”


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