State fires make some would-be Summit tourists nervous
SUMMIT COUNTY – The Summit County Chamber of Commerce phones are ringing with calls from people who fear that Summit County is on fire.
“People are saying, “Are you burning?’ “Will we be in any danger?’,” said Candy Hoy, a reservationist at the chamber’s guest services center. “We had people coming in (Monday) asking if roads were open.
“I got a call from a lady who’s having a family reunion who was even thinking about canceling. She’s from the Delta area.”
Hoy, like many people across the state who work in the tourism industry, is unhappy about Gov. Bill Owens’ Sunday statement that “All of Colorado is on fire today.”
“I felt it was a little bit over-exaggerated,” she said. “I feel after Sept. 11, we don’t need any more hurt.”
“It’s just a constant battle,” agreed Tim Holton, director of sales for Wildernest Property Management. “Overall, we’re doing all right. We’re a bit of ahead of last summer, but I can’t see that fires happening all over the state is going to help us.
“We have been getting some calls from people who have reserved a stay already and essentially what we’re trying to do is let people know it’s a pretty good distance away from here. I liken it to if I lived in Milwaukee and Chicago’s got a big fire going on, I’m not going to get too carried away about it. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that nothing crazy happens here.”
Members of the Colorado Tourism Office met Monday in Colorado Springs to discuss Owens’ statement about the fires.
Mark Greksa, co-owner of the Georgetown Loop Railroad and Royal Gorge Route railroads, said people were canceling train rides on both lines after Owens’ statement.
“Statements like these could be devastating not just to our attractions, but to Colorado’s tourism industry as a whole,” Greksa said.
Jenna MacGregor, head of marketing for Estes Valley Resort, which runs three properties near Rocky Mountain National Park, said she had 32 cancellations after Owens’ statement.
“After he went out two months ago and tried to support the tourism industry in Colorado, now he just hurt us big time,” she said.
On Tuesday, however, Owens said he was just speaking figuratively when he said the state was afire.
“At this point my top priority has to be to talk straight to the people of Colorado,” Owens said in a press conference near the Glenwood Springs fire. “It’s clear to me we’re facing a challenge we haven’t seen in many, many years.”
In Summit County, the fires present a double-whammy.
Holton said his office is battling not only the perception that the fires are more widespread than they actually are, but also a perception that Dillon Reservoir has been reduced to a mere shadow of its former self.
“We have our people say that the lake is low, but that it’s a big lake and people can really still get out and enjoy that big lake,” Holton said. “It’s not that the sky is falling.”
The Breckenridge Resort Chamber is doing its part to keep prospective tourists coming, said BRC public relations director Jen Radeug. That includes posting daily pictures of Breckenridge on the Web site, so visitors can see that it’s sunny and smoke-free here.
“No one, so far, has canceled their reservations through the Breckenridge Resort Chamber,” Radeug said. “We’ll help the Colorado Tourism Board as much as needed to create a positive image for tourism in Colorado for the summer, because there really are a lot of places in Colorado that are not affected by the fire or smoke, and luckily, Summit County is one of them.”
Radeug said the BRC also is trying to educate people who do come about the fire danger and restrictions.
“We’re mainly concerned about getting the word out for people to be careful in Summit County,” she said. “Yes, it’s beautiful here and we’re OK, but there is extreme fire danger.”
To date this summer, Radeug said reservations made through the BRC are up somewhat from last year. She admits the past several months – including Sept. 11, below-average snowfall, drought and fire – have been challenging.
“From a marketing standpoint, it’s kept us on our toes,” she said. “It definitely hasn’t been the easiest year. “But in any marketing plan, you’re going to have your long-range plan and stuff you can pull out of your pocket at the last minute. To be honest, every year there’s something.”
Jane Reuter can be reached at 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at email@example.com
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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