Tourism: Northern Colorado’s Secret Economic Tool

November 2, 2021

From Rocky Mountain National Park to CSU Football games, tourism is bringing the Northern Colorado Front Range economy back to life.

It’s no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic hit the tourism industry hard. While some people are afraid to travel, others are comfortable venturing out. So, what does that mean for the economies of travel destinations, and how will that impact our Northern Colorado communities? For places like Estes Park, there wasn’t as severe an economical hit from the pandemic compared to what happened in urban areas.

“Estes Park is fortunate to offer an abundance of wide-open outdoor spaces for visitors to enjoy, so visitation did not suffer much, except for during the state’s lockdown when travel was not allowed,” said Rachel Ward Oppermann, the marketing and communications manager for Visit Estes Park. “Anecdotally, guests are traveling to Estes Park to try new outdoor adventures more than ever before.”

The Impact of Pandemic Tourism

People heading outdoors in their free time was a huge economic boost for towns that rely on adventure-seeking tourists. Ward Oppermann said, looking toward the future, the goal is to make the tourism industry experience in Northern Colorado more sustainable. She expressed concern for economic, social and environmental issues and the importance of addressing needs within the local community.

“Sustainable tourism is the future of the industry and must be the guiding principle of efforts to recover our economies,” Ward Opperman said. “As we work to restart our economies, doing so within these confines will create more resilient, sustainable, community-first destinations.”

Coming down through the canyon and out to the Front Range, NoCo urban areas are also adapting to fit the needs tourists have now. Katy Schnieder, the director of marketing for Visit Fort Collins says people’s pent-up need for tourism activities brought an upturn to the industry over the summer.

“Slowly but surely, we are seeing the positive impacts tourism is having on local economies,” Schnieder said.

How Much Does Tourism Impact Our Communities?

In Fort Collins alone, tourism revenue brings $245 million – both directly and indirectly – to the community. Summer events draw the largest number of people, but this fall the city is seeing people visiting for events like CSU Football as well as coming to see the changing leaves. Schnieder says that winter also has enticing draws.

“Winter brings its own magic as the downtown lights come on, ice rinks are set up around town and outdoor adventurers turn to cross country skiing and snowshoeing,” Schnieder said. “Our arts and culture organizations had to pause their seasons last year, so this winter is shaping up to be a good season for performing, visual and theater companies.”

Schnieder and Ward Opperman both say that tourism really is a critical economic driver for the Northern Colorado region. Offerings for tourists will continue to expand as more people visit, building upon the industry’s present economic influence. Ward Opperman says that tourism in Estes Park is an important part of how residents support themselves, and without it there would be far fewer employment options in Northern Colorado.

What’s Next for Tourism in Northern Colorado?

“In the past 10-15 years, more and more attractions, activities and lodging options have been added in Northern Colorado,” Schneider said. “The Destination Marketing Organizations in the region have collaborated on projects and promotions to make NoCo an even more desirable place to visit. Those efforts will continue to grow as our city boundaries continue to blur.”

In Estes Park, Ward Opperman says outfitters and guiding services have worked incredibly hard to meet the demand of guests now exploring the outdoors while urban indoor activities have remained restricted or closed.

“Our restaurants, attractions and lodging properties have been adaptive and flexible, and have worked tirelessly to work within restrictions and safety guidelines to provide guests with the safest experience possible,” Ward Opperman said.

In places like Fort Collins, events are a primary reason for people to visit. The pandemic didn’t stop event organizers from getting creative with how they present opportunities to the public. Schneider says those organizers are going to push for ways the community can continue to be involved.

“Event producers are resilient,” Schneider said. “They will only continue to refine their experiences to meet the needs of their attendees. “

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