New state law gives boost to Vail area tourism, broader economy
The initiative offers rebates, financial support for event planners through 2021 and 2022
A new law signed Monday by Gov. Jared Polis that offers financial incentives to event planners is just what the Vail area’s tourism economy needed, local leaders said.
The initiative, co-sponsored by Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, grants significant rebates and direct financial support to event planners through the rest of 2021 and 2022 in a bipartisan effort to boost the recovering tourism and events industries.
“This is an exciting bill for Coloradans and particularly for our tourism-based economy in Colorado’s mountain communities,” Roberts said in a release following the bill’s signing. “This bill will directly incentivize the return and revival of Colorado’s travel and tourism economy, create jobs, and provide some much-needed relief to one of the most impacted industries in our state.”
The law offers an up to 10% rebate on hard costs associated with hosting events as well as a 25% rebate on costs associated with making sure events are compliant with COVID-19 restrictions, according to the release.
Direct support for event planners will also be made available through the new program, which will be run by the Colorado Tourism Office starting July 1 through the end of 2022.
Events must be responsible for 25 or more hotel nights booked in order to be eligible for the program, which will be supported by $10 million of existing state funds, according to the release.
Hotels, a crucial part of the tourism economy, really struggled as events disappeared and travel restrictions went into effect during the pandemic, said Kristen Pryor, the general manager for the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon.
About 30% of the Westin’s business is tied to events like meetings, weddings and conferences, Pryor said. In a typical offseason in Eagle County, events power upwards of 60% of business in the valley, she said.
“In March, all of that business went away, obviously, because people weren’t meeting in person,” she said. “It was definitely challenging for everyone in our valley, not only for our business but for the staff and the employees that support that business.”
Now, as the tourism economy strives to make a full rebound, destinations are having to compete to catch the eye of big events and meetings, which are still not as plentiful as they were pre-COVID, Pryor said.
“Oftentimes, these group events also bring people that might not have chosen to come here initially because the person deciding where to host the event is inviting them,” she said. “So, it’s really a great opportunity to showcase our valley to the attendees and, if they have a great experience, there’s an opportunity to book future events … and keep that revenue within our economy.”
Roberts said he and fellow co-sponsors are hoping this initiative will make Colorado stand out from the pack.
“This bill will help jump-start our tourism economy by helping to make Colorado the first choice for anyone looking for a place to host an event,” Roberts said in the release.
The bill was also sponsored by Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, Sen. Robert Rodriguez, D-Denver, and Sen. Dennis Hisey, R-El Paso, according to the release. It passed through the House by a vote of 48-15 and the Senate 35-0.
The program provides immediate support to event planners and hotel chains, but the economic impact is bound to be much bigger than that, Roberts and Pryor said.
“People come and meet with us but then they go out and eat and they shop and support all of our local small businesses as well,” Pryor said. “Big trickle-down effect.”
Colorado’s arts and cultural production, which includes events, accounted for 4.1% of the state’s economic output as of 2019, powering 108,462 jobs, according to the press release. About one third of those jobs have disappeared since the start of the pandemic.
“I’m grateful Gov. Polis has signed this bill into law that will help our restaurants, hotels, bars and so many other small businesses that are connected to the events and meetings industry,” Roberts said in the release.
Fletcher Harrison, co-owner of Red Maple Catering, said he and fellow employees have such high hopes for the legislation’s impact on their business that they are already developing new offerings and marketing strategies to appeal to event planners making use of the law.
After many difficult months, the Westin is now able to operate at 100% capacity and occupancy rates have pretty much returned to what they looked like back in 2019, Pryor said.
“This is an important initiative and a great start to support our economic recovery efforts,” president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership Chris Romer said in the release.
Email Kelli Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org