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Tourism surge continues in the Roaring Fork Valley

Resurgence of visitors to valley communities area shows no sign of slowing down in 2022

People walk through a snowy downtown area on Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Tourism-dependent towns in the Roaring Fork Valley rapidly went from wondering if guests would ever return when COVID-19 hit in March 2020 to being overwhelmed with visitors starting just a few months later.

That tourism surge continued through 2021 and shows little sign of abating in 2022.

Unlike other years when tourism picked up, this time travelers made themselves at home. White-collar workers who weren’t tied to an office because of the pandemic discovered they would love to work remotely from the mountains. Urban dwellers fed up with civil unrest and lockdowns flocked to mountain towns in large part to enjoy the great outdoors. Tourists were transformed into residents.



Meanwhile, overwhelmed employees bemoaned the loss of offseason this fall.

Summer occupancy for properties in Aspen and Snowmass Village was 60.3%, an increase of 6% from 2019 and up nearly 53% from the prior summer.



“The key performance drivers for this summer were numerous,” said a recent occupancy report by Stay Aspen Snowmass, a central reservations center affiliated with Aspen Skiing Co. One reason was pent-up travel desires among U.S. residents who faced restrictions on international travel. “U.S. citizens were getting vaccinated in the spring and summer and were still restricted from traveling freely around the world.”

Another attraction was the full slate of special events presented by local chambers of commerce. The tourism entities once feared they needed to load the calendar to draw people back. Now — after hordes kept coming — chambers of commerce from Aspen to Glenwood Springs are assessing their approaches to potentially dial back to more “sustainable” tourism.

A large group of people deboard the westbound California Zephyr train at the Amtrak station in downtown Glenwood during summer 2021.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

In Glenwood Springs, occupancy for July, August and September was 91%, 68.3% and 83%, respectively, according to the monthly Rocky Mountain Lodging Report.

Glenwood’s occupancy also held strong during the shoulder month of November at 55.3%, which was higher than Aspen (40.5%) and Vail (26.7%) for the pre-holiday month.

August through November marked the inaugural run of the Rocky Mountaineer “Rockies to the Red Rocks” tourist train from Denver to Moab, which included an overnight stop in Glenwood Springs.

A Rocky Mountaineer train passenger documents the occasion upon disembarking from the train in Glenwood Springs Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021.

Year to date through November, Glenwood Springs saw its lodging occupancy rebound to 70.7%, compared to 57.5% for the first 11 months of 2020.

Reservations on the books indicate that as long as Aspen and Snowmass receive snow this winter, the resorts are a lock for solid performances.

Reservations on the books as of Nov. 30 for the 2021-22 winter produce occupancy of 43.4% in Aspen and Snowmass Village, 4% better than two years ago at the same time and a whopping 96% better than last year.

“January and April are the only two months performing worse than two years ago, the rest are all pacing up,” the report by Stay Aspen Snowmass states.

People walk through a snowy downtown area on Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

January is taking a hit because it is traditionally such a huge month for international travel, particularly from Australia. Tough travel restrictions are reducing the numbers this year.

At the current pace of business, January might present the last reprieve for a long, long time.

Glenwood Springs Post Independent Senior Reporter John Stroud [jstroud@postindependent.com] contributed to this report.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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