Guest column | Tourism visitor surge rates, a good look
Three notable events took place in the last few weeks of summer that should grab the attention of new and longtime residents of Grand County. They all relate to the economy.
The first event was observed by me on Labor Day weekend. I took a stroll on main street on that beautiful Sunday and I beheld something that I have never seen before. There was a line of traffic stopped in town almost all the way to the First Street traffic light.
This wouldn’t have been so remarkable if it was simply a back-up of cars heading east due to an accident near town. But it wasn’t. This was a true traffic slowdown (stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper) stretching all the way from Winter Park to Granby. And it wasn’t caused by Berthoud Pass construction because they weren’t working on the road that day.
It was visitor traffic comprised of cars going east toward Denver and the Front Range. I’ve seen such back-ups in the upper Fraser Valley from Fraser stretching east partway up Red Dirt Hill. Those back-ups were usually late morning or early afternoon on a summer Sunday.
This was different.
Then there were two articles that ran in newspapers we get up here. The first was the piece in the Sky-Hi News, by Emily Gutierrez, that revealed that Granby was named the top family summer destination in Colorado for 2023. This was based on the top proportion of family nights booked per state in the first half of 2023 for summer check-ins between June and August.
This ranking put Granby in the company of cities with the same distinction in their states, such as Anaheim, California; Port Aransas, Texas; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Rapid City, South Dakota; Stowe, Vermont; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Upon reflection, this is quite a distinction for little ol’ Granby.
For some, these facts fall into the lamentable category of “dubious d
istinctions” along with “be careful what you wish for.” For some naysayers the question follows: Do we really want to be a top Airbnb destination? Especially when what it comes with is lots more traffic (note the line of cars through Granby), more people in the woods on “our” trails and a burden on our services.
For others, these are facts worth crowing to high heaven about because these events clearly confirm what we’ve been seeing now for three years in Granby. It’s getting to be a tourist destination at a scale never seen before. Sun Outdoors, Granby Ranch and its ski area, Grand Elk, two golf courses, the railroad museum and our proximity to the great outdoors make Granby more and more desirable for visitors and, perhaps, future residents.
If they can afford to live here. And that’s a big “if.”
Now, back to short-term rentals. Unincorporated Grand County has 962 active short-term rental properties listed. The towns also have many in their systems.
An article in Sunday’s Denver Post and Tuesday’s Colorado Sun (by Jason Blevins) revealed that in Summit County, our neighbor to the south, a lawsuit is challenging the county’s short-term-rental regulations mainly because the plaintiffs say the regulations infringe upon their rights to make money from their properties and, in a sense, ostracizes them. Summit’s regulations are more stringent than those in Grand County and most of our towns, but the fight points to the tension a community can see when it becomes a top-rated Airbnb location.
Which reminds me of how defensive a new acquaintance of mine became when he divulged that he used Airbnb to rent out part of his residence so he could afford to have it as a second home in the mountains. I think he was afraid I was going to punch him in the mouth (I wasn’t). But he was very much aware of the short-term-rental conundrum we are facing in mountain communities.
Our economy is increasingly dependent on growing numbers of visitors, many who use Airbnb. And yet our lifestyles are starting to feel the impacts. We may have more money, but we also have more people visiting. It’s an inevitable trade-off.
And I haven’t even touched on the challenge to the Utah Native American oil trains that may one day pass through Grand County. Think about oil train derailments along the Colorado or Fraser rivers . . . and yet, many trains laden with oil are already passing through the rail lines in our county.
Nor have I mentioned yet another challenge to Denver’s Gross Reservoir expansion, which could have big impacts on the Fraser River.
And then there’s the big question: Are most of these visitors to Grand County what a friend of mine called “Climate Refugees?” If so, the pressure is just beginning.
Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He offers free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He is also the author of “KILLDOZER: The True Story of the Colorado Bulldozer Rampage.” He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at email@example.com.
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