EDITORIAL: Too Many Tourists, Part 1
Last week the Colorado Sun published an article by journalist Jason Blevins with an interesting title.
Colorado’s mountain towns say they can no longer accommodate tourists amid housing and work crises
This title suggests that “Colorado Mountain Towns” aren’t just universally tourist-tired – and of course, Pagosa Springs is one of those “Colorado Mountain Towns” – it also implies that all Colorado Mountain Towns have the same general feelings about tourism in 2021..
M. Blevins launches his article as follows:
Crested Butte has pulled its summer ads as businesses struggle to accommodate crowds. A municipal councilor from Telluride wants to redirect funding from tourism to housing. The Colorado Tourist Board is leaderless. Chaffee County Commissioners have rejected an annual music festival of 20,000 people.
Anxiety over tourism is growing as mountain communities emerge from crowd-limiting pandemic closures. Overlapping waves of visitors and new residents are amplifying an unprecedented labor shortage and housing crisis. And with this seasonal distress comes a growing call to silence Colorado statewide promotion as a vacation wonderland.
“It’s a capacity issue,” said Geneva Shaunette, a member of the Telluride city council who wants to redirect $ 2 million a year towards labor housing from tourism campaign spending. “With the dire situation we are living in with housing and the lack of employees, we just can’t handle so many people. We need to release the marketing gas. Telluride is already on the map. The whole ‘Come to Telluride because it’s awesome’, we can’t take it physically anymore. And we have a lot of better and more important things to spend our money on. “
I’ve spent the last week going door-to-door, handing out invitations to local businesses, encouraging local residents to participate in the ongoing residential housing survey of Pagosa Housing Partners (which you can access it here.) With all the tourists to town this summer – echoing last summer’s invasion – I expected to hear business owners and managers express their satisfaction with our “successful” tourism economy .
But that’s not what I heard. In fact, not a single person I spoke to seemed happy with what was going on in Pagosa Springs.
What I heard, instead of satisfaction, was an overwhelming sense of frustration with the direction the community is taking. Not that I was asking for those answers; business owners and managers shared their feelings.
Frustration of feeling overwhelmed by traffic and too many visitors.
Frustration with neighborhoods turned into vacation rental neighborhoods.
Frustration with the lack of housing for the workforce, and with the shortage of hired employees.
But not everyone gets frustrated. Some people I had not spoken to on my local business tour attended the Pagosa Springs Area Tourism Board meeting – a joint effort of our two local governments, the Town of Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County – met earlier this week, with a rather contentious issue on the agenda.
Should we continue to spend money promoting Pagosa Springs as a tourist destination? The Tourist Board thought it was a good idea in general.
Should the tenant tax be redirected to fund other community needs? Like, say, labor housing? The Tourist Office did not like this idea, in general.
Many in leadership positions have argued that the millions of dollars spent on tourism marketing over the past decade has created a small town that is no longer fun to visit or live in.
Or work in it.
On Thursday, city council spent about 8 hours discussing its 2022 priorities during its annual retreat.
One of the discussions focused on a unanimous recommendation – in fact, a set of four recommendations – that had been approved by the Planning Commission two days earlier. The recommendations had come at the request of the City Council. “How does the City face the challenges posed by the proliferation of vacation rentals in residential areas?
The recommendations of the planning commission:
1. That a buyer of a new property in a residential area should own the property for two years before applying for a vacation rental permit.
2. Significantly increase the amount of license fees – where the property is not the owner’s primary residence – from $ 500 to $ 6,000 per year, and apply all income collected to housing the workforce.
3. Authorize only one vacation rental permit per property.
4. Redirect, “to the extent possible”, redirect city renter tax revenues from tourism promotion and marketing to workforce housing efforts.
These recommendations will be submitted to the Board at a future meeting for possible approval.
Have we stocked up on… tourists? Here is Board Member Mat deGraaf, commenting on this topic… and echoing the comments of Geneva Council member Shaunette of Telluride, cited at the beginning of this article.
M. de Graaf:
“Something that is really relevant to the [tourism discussion] is “capacity”. I mean, we can bring people here, but if it takes two hours to get into each restaurant, they probably won’t come back. Right? So it’s a bigger problem. We have experienced this meteoric rise; we see that each month, with the graphs of [the Tourism Board]. I mean, I wish our ski slope was that steep.
Below is a sample of the charts Mr. deGraaf refers to.
As we see, tenant tax revenue for 2020 (the rusty red bars) started to increase in June of last year. The rise in income continued in 2021 (dark brown bars) with collections for January, February, March, April and May, bringing in about twice as many dollars as in 2015.
The Graaf Board member continued:
“And we are not able to respond quickly enough. And the private sector cannot do it either. Like I said, about waiting for a table at the restaurant. Obviously, we need a few more restaurants… ”
Except that our existing restaurants are already understaffed. We don’t have the manpower to run the additional businesses.
M. de Graaf:
“We have these demands that just cannot be met. I think our user experience suffers. People came here because it was quiet; it was kind of their special place. And it’s not like that anymore … “
I remember for some reason a famous quote from Yogi Berra.
“Nobody goes there anymore. There are too many people.”
Read the second part, tomorrow …
Bill Hudson began to share his opinions in the Pagosa’s daily message in 2004 and can’t seem to break the habit. He claims that in Pagosa Springs opinions are like vans: everyone has one.