On Tuesday, Sept. 15, the Visit Estes Park Board of Directors held a special meeting to present, review, and approve a draft of the 2021 operating plan. Visit Estes Park is a marketing district, a quasi-government entity that has an inter-governmental agreement with both the town of Estes Park and Larimer County including Drake and Glenhaven. The primary mission and goal is to responsibly drive visitor demand as a year round destination, not just a busy summer season. VEP is responsible every year with coming up with an operating plan that is supported by a budget to accomplish different key goals and objectives that driven by a three year strategic plan.
According to Eric Lund, CEO and President of VEP, “This year’s 2020 budget and operating plan was pretty well thrashed by the COVID issue…because the state required the shut down of many of our lodging businesses, vacation rentals, restaurants, and a lot of our tourism infrastructure here…and through out the state. So, that pretty much shot everyone’s budget everywhere and had a substantial impact. Luckily enough, the biggest part of the impact was not during our peak season. Because we are still more of a summer destination at this point, although, we are trying to build our winter and shoulder [Spring and Fall] seasons to make those stronger.”
The 2020 budget is now forecast to have about $500,000 shortfall than VEP had anticipated before COVID-19 hit. Fortunately, VEP has a six-month reserve of about $800,000 so the organization was able to absorb that $500,000 loss and still continue to maintain most staff and marketing efforts. Estes Park was one of few destinations that was able to market starting in May and June, and continued through the summer to drive more visitor demand. Estes Park was also able to get more return for their marketing investment because demand had dropped so significantly.
Lund expresses, “Overall, Estes Park has fared far better than most any of the Front Range communities including Longmont, Loveland, Fort Collins, and Denver who are really getting hit because they have a lot of group business and they are not what I would call heritage destination which we are because we have a national park next door.”
A big part of the direction of the upcoming marketing push is going to be “safe” tourist destinations, including targeting these leisure audiences:
• Drive overnight market looking for safe heritage destinations
• Families with children learning remotely
• Professionals working remotely looking for safe extended stays
• Outdoorsy Urbanites
• Empty Nesters looking for a safe heritage destination
• Colorado and States that represent major drive markets
Lund hopes that we can see a vaccine soon and the world will get back to normal but until then Estes Park has been hanging in there and doing pretty well. In August, Estes Park actually made their target budget and he sees that as a very good sign that things are going the right direction, at least in lodging revenue.
With the reality of the COVID-impacted world, VEP has been proactive in educating and encourage safe, responsible behavior when people visit Estes Park. The first two links on the home page lead to information on both COVID-19 safety and local fire bans. The organization has tried to be responsible and sensitive with bringing visitors from possible hot spots into the Estes Park community with striking a balance between the economy and public safety. At one point in April, at the height of the pandemic, VEP was telling visitors, “Now may not be the right time to come up,” according to Lund.
Now that the draft plan has passed, it still needs to be fine tuned before VEP submits it to the town and county by the 30th of December. VEP anticipates submitting the final plan about a week before the deadline. The town and county will then have 30 days to review it and request changes.That will be followed by public hearings at both the town and county where the public is able to comment. There will also be a budget hearing and planning workshop to come.