Downside of no vacancy on West Slope
Vail, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” By the time Karen Holman shows up for her front desk job many mornings at the Affordable Inn in Glenwood Springs, most of its rooms are empty of patrons.
It’s not because they’ve checked out. Holman said the bulk of those staying at the Affordable Inn work in the oil and gas industry and are paying the $343 weekly rate to sleep there between shifts in western Garfield County’s gas fields.
“They’re usually gone before I come to work in the morning,” she said.
Business is booming for Glenwood lodging establishments thanks to the energy industry’s growing need for worker housing. Building contractors needing a place to stay also are contributing to the boom.
All of which means that while lodging activity in Glenwood long has been looked to as a key measure of the health of the city’s tourism industry, that measure is being skewed by some other healthy industries in the region.
Still to be determined is what kind of impact such heavy patronization of local lodges by the oil and gas and construction industries has on the tourism industry.
Clearly, the trend has been a boon to the lodging industry itself. City lodging tax revenues have experienced double-digit increases the last two years, and are up more than 25 percent so far this year.
But how much do energy and construction workers patronize other tourism-related businesses in town?
“I would imagine they would have to eat dinner and they would have to recreate,” said Pam Johnson, owner of Johnson Park Miniature Golf.
She said it’s plausible that such lodging guests might spend fewer dollars on tourism. But she added, “I do get a lot of guys with Wyoming tags, pickup trucks; that’s the only thing I could judge it on.”
Bart Victor, owner of Charcoalburger Drive In, said his business has been going up for the last few years, although it’s hard to know how many of his customers might be workers staying at local lodges. He said he sees a lot of energy-related vehicles when he delivers to lodges.
“So I know they’re there,” he said.
Linda Stoltzfus, owner of America’s Best Value Inn, said energy workers are running into no-vacancy signs in places such as Parachute, Rifle and New Castle and end up staying at the budget-priced establishments in Glenwood Springs, “which pushes the traveling public into a different category for hotels.”
She said she doesn’t get drilling worker business. Nevertheless, on a recent weekday her place had filled all but three rooms by 3 p.m. with other patrons.
“It’s a great thing,” she said.
Johnson said even workers who aren’t visiting tourist attractions are probably buying clothes at Target or otherwise spending money in town. Those new dollars end up helping the city’s economy as a whole as they are recirculated.
“If someone’s spending money, someone’s got money to spend,” she said.
To Victor, if the energy industry is a problem, it may be because it is contributing to a severe local labor shortage. That shortage left him recently working his counter because he couldn’t find any help, he said.
Stoltzfus said the local tourism economy is going strong, too. But she thinks more extended-stay lodging is needed for workers, and said the current situation “is not helping tourism, other than lodges.”
Some workers renting local rooms also would like to see more lodging options. Robert Bennett and Joe Maier, electricians from Atlanta who are working a job in Aspen, have been staying in Glenwood since April. Last week they were rooming at the Cedar Lodge for about $330 a week.
But they said most Glenwood motels stop offering weekly rates come Memorial Day and the start of the summer tourism season, so many workers have been scrambling to find an economical place to stay.
Bennett and co-workers went from hotel to hotel before nailing down weekly lodging at the 1st Choice Inn for $340 a week. They were thrilled at their discovery, saying their only other choice was to pay daily rates that would have doubled their lodging costs.
Kate Collins, vice president of tourism marketing for Glenwood Springs, said she knows of at least two local lodges that are already booked up for the whole summer thanks to demand from workers.
“It’s very compelling for them because they can charge premium rates and have income they can count on, and it’s free enterprise, so it’s certainly no fault of the properties to find that attractive,” Collins said.
But she said the trend does raise concerns in terms of the eventual impact on businesses offering tourism-related activities.
“We need the lodging inventory for our attractions to be viable,” she said.
She fears that if lodges further shift toward worker patrons, and then that demand starts to dry up later, it could be hard to fall back on the city’s tourism economy if it has suffered too much.
For now, Collins thinks the city’s tourism industry, which generates $94 million a year, is doing well. She said it’s hard to determine just how much of the recent growth in the city’s lodging tax revenues is a result of worker housing rather than visits by tourists. Some of it probably is a result of establishments being able to charge higher rates due to increased demand, she said.
The city’s bed tax doesn’t apply to anyone staying in a room more than 30 consecutive days, but Collins believes a lot of workers tend to come and go more often.
Relaxing with cigarettes in their pickup truck in the Cedar Lodge parking lot after work Wednesday night, Bennett and Maier were proof the demand for motel rooms isn’t just driven by the energy industry. Many of those staying at the Cedar Lodge were tradesmen from out of state who were working at upvalley construction sites.
“It’s not just oil and gas. The construction in this valley is out of hand,” Bennett said.
He said skilled tradesmen are being recruited from around the country to work on local jobs. Some are being given company trucks to commute as far upvalley as Aspen from as far away as Grand Junction.
Bennett and Maier said they love the area, and have done some tourist-related activities when time allows, such as going to a Rockies game in Denver. They also hope to participate in Glenwood’s June 2 Yagatta Regatta, which has activities including a float down the Colorado River.
Several construction workers said they would have liked to have gone skiing or snowboarding if they had arrived earlier in the year.
Maier said he lives far enough away that he spends his off hours in Glenwood and has more opportunity to indulge in tourism-related activities than those in the energy industry might. Many energy workers tend to work numerous days in a row, followed by extended periods of time off in which they often will travel to their homes in nearby states.
Edrick Catanach, a plumber from New Mexico who was staying at Cedar Lodge last week, said workers contribute to Glenwood’s tourist economy even when they don’t do tourist-oriented things.
“We’re in a tourist town ” we pay tourist prices,” he said.