Labor Day traditionally marks the end of the summer tourism season, but as more people identify Durango as being a hub for outdoor recreation, the so-called “shoulder seasons” – fall and spring – are gaining in popularity.
During the summer of 2020, a pandemic year, Durango saw more than 739,393 unique visitors to La Plata County, according to Visit Durango. Numbers were down this summer, with 525,878 unique visitors, according to Visit Durango.
“I think the most interesting and exciting takeaway from this data is that from 2019 to 2021 our peak summer visitation has decreased by 24%. Yet the visitation in off-peak season (October to April) has increased by 13%,” said Rachel Brown, executive director of Visit Durango.
Off-peak visitor numbers from October 2020 to April 2021 totaled 607,072. The number of visitors for the off-peak season the previous year totaled 467,944.
“This means Visit Durango’s shift in the timing of our advertising and commitment to sustainable tourism is paying off,” Brown said. “By taking a little of the load off in summer, our locals feel less strain and our resources are less impacted. By shifting some of that visitation to the off-peak season, we have a healthier economy, and our small businesses and workforce prosper year-round.”
Although numbers are lower this summer, statistics show people are staying longer. The average stay in 2021 was 4.6 days, whereas is 2020 it was only 2.6 days.
And it appears visitors are more willing to open their wallets. Even though there were fewer visitors this summer, the Durango Chamber of Commerce said some businesses are reporting profits similar to what they were making before the pandemic.
“A lot of our businesses have reported a great year,” said Jack Llewellyn, director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce. “For a lot of them, 2019 was kind of their record year, and numbers were right up there with 2019, if not higher for some.”
Dealing with a shortage of employees continues to be the biggest issue for local businesses.
“People have adjusted accordingly, like Carver’s is shutting down a couple days a week,” Llewellyn said. “They figure if they don’t have the employees, they’ll just close for a couple of days. Then give their employees that are working a couple days off.”
Llewellyn said he is hopeful people will continue to get vaccinated and businesses will see more profitable tourism seasons in the future.
“There’s no excuse to not be vaccinated,” Llewellyn said. “If the pandemic can be curtailed and vaccines are done, and people are following protocols, then I think we’re going to continue to see folks taking vacations where they can have experiences,” Llewellyn said.
San Juan Basin Public Health said there is an inherent risk of spreading COVID-19 when it comes to tourism.
“Visitors are essential to our community, and people’s livelihoods,” said Chandler Griffin, spokesman with SJBPH. “It’s so important that we welcome visitors, but of course when people gather in large numbers, there’s an increase risk of spread.”
Durango’s tourism-driven economy should create even more incentive for residents to get fully vaccinated and follow health advisories, Griffin said.
“We have been sure to offer a tremendous amount of testing, and we have a tremendous amount of availability of vaccines,” said SJBPH Executive Director Liane Jollon. “The vaccine clinics are open to visitors as well as residents.”