The oil-and-gas boom in northwest Colorado has attracted thousands of workers causing a high demand for housing. With no other place to stay, energy workers are swarming into local motels. This might benefit the hotel industry, but have “no vacancy” signs shut out tourists, the Western Slope’s traditional economic mainstay? For Glenwood Springs, this scenario has had good and bad sides.“We’re getting killed,” Glenwood Springs mayor, Bruce Christenson, complained to Gov. Bill Ritter during a special mountain mayors meeting last week. “A third of Glenwood’s hotels are filled with oil-and-gas workers, driving tourists away, yet we get very little in return.”
“That number is anecdotal,” said Kate Collins, vice-president of Tourism Marketing at the Glenwood Springs Chamber of Commerce. She knows energy workers are staying at local motels and hotels even though Glenwood Springs is more than 30 miles away from the closest gas rig in Rifle. “But there are no hard studies to substantiate any impacts,” she noted.
“In the winter, there are plenty of places for tourists to stay and traditionally in the summer, it has always been a challenge to find motel rooms,” she added.
Located about 200 miles west of Denver on I-70, Glenwood Springs is a tourist mecca, especially for Front Range visitors, because it is conveniently located near popular, but much more expensive destinations such as Vail and Aspen. Glenwood also hosts the world’s largest public hot springs pool. The chamber estimates that tourism generates about $94 million in Glenwood’s economy.
A quick survey of merchants and clerks in downtown Glenwood Springs produced a mixed response about the influx of energy workers in town.
At one antique store, Bob Daniels complained that business has been slow. Tourists seem more sparse now than the year before. “I used to work on the oil platforms down in Louisiana and I know how the industry can impact the environment,” he said. “That can drive tourists away if we’re not careful.”
A clerk at a local bead store overheard a conversation over the summer that concerned her. “A Denver couple complained that the motel they were staying at was more like a man camp,” the woman related. “But, otherwise, I haven’t heard of any problems about the availability of rooms.”
“Before Christmas, energy employees came in to buy presents for their families,” a gift shop manager said. “They have been good for our business and for restaurants, too.”
A bookstore employee said she used to work for a local motel that now caters almost exclusively to oil-and-gas workers. “You can’t blame the motel owners for wanting to fill up their rooms,” she noted.
Randy Corry, owner of Canyon Leathers, was philosophical about the changes in the hotel industry in Glenwood Springs. He has also seen an increase of business from customers in the energy field.
“The motel properties that now cater to oil-and-gas workers haven’t made improvements in a long time,” he said. “It’s probably a good thing that tourists don’t stay in those places anymore.”
Photos by Leslie Robinson. Top: The Hotel Colorado and the Hot Springs Pool slide are some of the tourist attractions in Glenwood Springs. Bottom: Glenwood’s downtown area is busy in the summer.