By Beth Buehler
One of the biggest challenges of coronavirus (COVID-19) is staying current with state and destination guidelines in regard to travel, meetings and events. As Colorado reopens, the Colorado Tourism Office’s website, is a helpful big-picture travel resource while local destination marketing organizations and their websites are the go-to places regarding details for individual communities and regions.
Destination Colorado checked in with three industry professionals to get the latest scoop about Colorado destinations reopening for meetings and events business: Kim Brussow, Director of Sales for Visit Vail Valley (Vail, Beaver Creek, Eagle County); Eric Lund, President of Visit Estes Park; and Donielle Kitzman, Vice President of the Visit Pueblo and Convention and Visitors Bureau. Keep in mind that things continue to change rapidly, so this is a snapshot in time.
Has your destination reopened for hosting meetings and events and to what extent?
Kim Brussow: Yes, we are in Phase 2/Intermediate of the Vail Valley’s Transition Trail Map, meaning a maximum group size of 50 people can gather and restaurants are open at 50 percent capacity. We anticipate being in Phase 3/Expert on June 22 with a maximum group size of 250.
Eric Lund: Yes, Estes Park has reopened to the maximum extent possible under the governor of Colorado’s guidance, which is changing weekly.
Donielle Kitzman: We are thrilled to announce that we will open the Pueblo Convention Center starting on July 1. Events will be limited to 50 percent capacity of the center and are not to exceed 100 people per room. This will allow us to host events of all shapes and sizes, including conferences, meetings, banquets, small trade events and other social gatherings that can limit their attendance to 100 or split larger groups between multiple rooms. Pueblo also offers a variety of other unique spaces for an event.
Have any meetings and events been held since COVID-19 hit? If so what types and sizes?
KB: Yes, weddings and smaller meetings, with less than 50 people.
EL: Yes, primarily weddings and family reunions.
DK: Pueblo “closed” March 13, with no public events happening after that. However, we’ve had a variety of local nonprofit groups use the Pueblo Convention Center free of charge since March to fulfill their missions, such as Supporting Pueblo and online shopping space for local businesses. The Pueblo Convention Center’s first scheduled event, a small corporate meeting, will take place on July 2. Later in July, we will host several weddings, banquets and an Exotic Reptile and Pet Show. In early August, we will host the Pueblo Home and Patio Show.
How are meetings and events looking different in your destination(s) today?
KB: We are practicing new safety protocols: larger meeting rooms with social distancing of at least 6 feet apart, adjusted food and beverage offerings, reduced in-person contact with guests (e.g., no buffets), and enhanced housekeeping in public spaces and guestrooms.
EL: Groups are going to restaurants instead of having catered affairs due to group sizes. Otherwise, Estes Park is getting back to somewhat normal with smaller groups.
DK: Due to our efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, events will look different in many ways. Groups will be limited to 100 people per room, and event layouts will be much more spread out to accommodate for adequate physical distancing. Guests also will see cleaning staff working hard throughout their event to constantly sanitize high- traffic areas such as bathrooms, doors, etc.
What creative solutions have hotels, venues, attractions, destination management companies, etc. come up with that have caught your attention?
KB: Utilizing outdoor lawns and patios for meetings and getting creative with A/V and setup for indoor meeting rooms.
EL: Most are focusing on smaller groups and life celebrations for now, since large events have mostly canceled out of necessity.
DK: The Colorado State Fair has been re-imagined for 2020 to allow this historic event to continue. The city of Pueblo expanded liquor licenses to increase outside capacity at restaurants and established a $5 million grant fund out of an existing economic development tax to provide emergency funding for businesses.
Is Colorado one of the leaders in reopening for meetings and events, right in the middle or behind?
KB: Colorado is one of the leaders, and Eagle County was the first county within Colorado to be able to move into the next phase of reopening.
EL: We are getting Colorado destinations opened up again, which means we have to make sure people feel safe in attending meetings.
DK: Colorado, a trailblazer in the tourism industry, continues to follow the directives of Governor Polis. We hope to see strides forward in the evaluation and restrictions of meetings and events, which will allow us to accommodate larger gatherings with fair and reasonable safety guidelines.
How is meeting and event space availability looking like for the rest of 2020? How about for 2021?
KB: A lot of space remains for 2020, while 2021 is more compressed for spring and summer due to rebookings from 2020.
EL: There is lots of space for 2020, while 2021 looks better for now but will be dependent upon groups’ and attendees’ perception of travel safety.
DK: We will have available space through the end of this year. We believe 2021 will be a strong year for Pueblo and our convention center because many events scheduled in 2020 were pushed into 2021.
While COVID-19 has created many challenges, it also has confirmed that most of us prefer seeing other people in person! Technology has been great in the interim, but there is nothing like face-to-face interaction, which means Colorado destinations reopening for meetings and events in a smart fashion is truly something to celebrate.
Kitzman says, “We look forward to inviting groups back to our community and are taking every precaution to ensure the safety and well being of all guests, employees and partners.”
Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 15 years and helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine in 2013. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.