Summit County tourism economy could face a major hit from coronavirus |

Summit County tourism economy could face a major hit from coronavirus

Breckenridge Ski Resort’s Peak 8 on Thursday, March 12. Gov. Jared Polis has encouraged visitors to stay away from the High Country in an effort to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Liz Copan /

Editor’s note: Though promoting Breckenridge is paused for now, the Breckenridge Tourism Office is planning some paid media advertising for the summer and fall. The timing of the promotions has been clarified below.

BRECKENRIDGE — On Wednesday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis recommended those 60 and older avoid traveling to the High Country, stoking fears in the tourism sector that spring break could be a bust.

Polis noted that the virus was likely to disproportionately affect the state’s resort communities and recommended that individuals 60 and older or with other health issues limit their travel to the mountains, where 25 of the state’s 49 presumptive positive cases are located, primarily in Eagle in Pitkin counties.

“At this point, we can confirm community spread in the High Country of Colorado,” Polis said Wednesday. “… It appears the virus will be disproportionately hitting our resort and mountain communities first. That doesn’t mean it will hit our resort and mountain communities exclusively, but it will hit those communities first based on the numbers we’re seeing. Of course we’re concerned about people traveling back and forth between population centers and those communities.”

The travel warning has local business owners concerned about losing visitors during what it typically one of the busiest times of year.

Lucy Kay, president and CEO of the Breckenridge Tourism Office, spoke to Breckenridge Town Council on Tuesday to fill members in on the COVID-19 impact in Breckenridge from a business perspective. She said four groups have pulled out of business conferences scheduled in Breckenridge, a revenue loss of between $300,000 and $500,000. She said impacts to “free independent travel” businesses, such as hotels, have been fairly minor so far. 

Kay explained that the Breckenridge Tourism Office has paused some marketing efforts for now, but that they plan to “un-pause” some paid media advertising for the summer and fall, depending on the public health situation at that time. Kay explained that the Tourism Office might target its campaigns toward the drive market as people become more concerned about airline travel. She added that more people from the Front Range might cancel trips elsewhere and travel locally, which could benefit Summit County.

“Part of our expectation going forward is we’re going to have some impact on business but will see more car traffic,” Kay said. 

Council member Wendy Wolfe gave suggestions for informing resident and visitors about the current status of the virus in Colorado, including directing people to additional information on the government’s website and adding information to the front page of the Tourism Office website.

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Wolfe also pointed out that airline companies have been flexible in cancellation policies and said that it might be in the town’s best interest for local hospitality businesses to follow suit. 

“If we’re not changing our cancellation policies … we might be inviting people to come and take the chance,” Wolfe said.

Council member Gary Gallagher stressed the importance of keeping the community safe and minimizing the likelihood of community exposure and spread of the virus.   

“The bottom line is if the issue arises here, it’s almost too late,” Gallagher said about community exposure.

Assistant Breckenridge Town Manager Shannon Haynes added in a later conversation that town officials are taking steps to mitigate the spread of the virus as well as to plan for the possibility of the progression of the virus.

Summit County ski areas, which have posted public notices about the virus, have stressed that they’re open for business — a sentiment that was echoed by Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence at a press conference about coronavirus last week.

Adrienne Isaac, director of marketing and communications for the National Ski Areas Association, wrote in an email that the association collects skier visit numbers at the end of the season and that while it’s still too early to tell whether the virus is having an affect on skier numbers, snow is consistently the primary factor driving skier visits.

Blair McGary, executive director of the Summit County Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber intends to send a “balanced” message to residents and visitors. 

McGary said that at this point in time, the chamber isn’t expecting less business and is running business as usual unless it is advised otherwise by health officials.

“At this time, we’re really just encouraging the community to exercise prudence and just really be prepared,” McGary said. “We recognize that March is a really important time in our community … but the financial impact of this will not be unique to Summit County.”

Sawyer D’Argonne contributed to this report.

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