Tours to Colorado’s mountain towns resumed over Memorial Day weekend, the official start of the summer travel season in the United States
But in Eagle County, the action really kicks off next week, when crowds descend on Vail to watch people – and dogs – compete on bicycles, run and jump off docks.
Travelers are heading to beaches and parks across the United States after being largely grounded for more than a year. In Colorado, a return to normal means visitors are flocking to outdoor adventure celebrations that have been scaled back or canceled during the pandemic.
The mountain games in Vail, which have attracted outdoor enthusiasts for nearly 20 years, draw around 20,000 spectators on busy weekends, according to estimates from the Vail Valley Foundation, the event’s organizer. Last year, games were downsized due to COVID-19 restrictions. Now the program is loaded, including concerts at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater.
The games start on June 10 and end on June 13. As of May 15, hotel occupancy rates in the area were around 40%, roughly equivalent to pre-pandemic levels, according to Romer. That rate will likely climb to around 60% once late bookings are factored in, he said.
Colorado businesses that rely on recreation and tourism are optimistic as summer approaches. The state lost $ 10.5 billion in travel spending during the pandemic, according to data from US Travel, but the trend appears to be reversing with the widespread availability of the vaccine.
Large cities like Denver have been hit hardest by the drop in travel, while some mountain communities in Colorado have been able to capitalize on access to naturally socially distanced outdoor activities. Still, summer visits were far from normal last year, and the coming months could be some of the busiest on record for the state’s outdoor mecca.
John Hughes owns Louie’s Ice Cream Shop in Buena Vista, a town known for its proximity to some of Colorado’s best whitewater rafting. Hughes said he made about 80% of his typical summer income last year.
Memorial Day is the second busiest weekend of the year for him – July 4th is his busiest. This year, its revenues increased by 35% compared to last year. The long weekend coincided with Paddlefest, an annual kayaking competition, which was virtual in 2020. Hughes said the event was a big boost for his business.
“It brought all kinds of traffic from rafters to people who just want to be a part of the scene… and the party and everything down to the river,” Hughes said.
At Rocky Mountain National Park, Memorial Day weekend marked the reintroduction of the reservation system launched last year to ensure social distancing. Permits for the Bear Lake Road corridor have already run out for the remainder of June, while July mornings are also over, according to park spokesperson Kyle Patterson. A quarter of the permits are held up for purchase the day before the visit, but they sell out quickly, Patterson said.
“Visitors are encouraged to plan ahead,” Patterson said in an email. “Due to what some are calling the COVID bump or crash, we are expecting an extremely high number of visits this summer.”
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