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Short On Workers, This Resort Town Has Stopped Marketing Itself To Tourists


Summer tourist towns often spend big on advertising to bring in the crowds that local businesses need to survive. But in one Colorado resort town, the labor and housing crisis is so bad that the town decided to stop marketing. From member station KBUT, Chad Reich reports.

CHAD REICH, BYLINE: The Last Steep Bar & Grill in Crested Butte, Colo., is bustling. This time of year, the town is full of tourists and second homeowners. But bar owner Kevin Hartigan says he can't find enough staff.

KEVIN HARTIGAN: I don't think we've had someone come in and apply for a kitchen job since maybe March.

REICH: That means this summer, his restaurant has to be closed twice a week.

HARTIGAN: Staffing is so hard because there's no place for them to live. There's just not housing.

REICH: About half of the restaurants here are now closed several days per week or closed altogether. And this is peak season, when Hartigan estimates his restaurant makes 30- to 40% of its annual revenue over a few summer months.

HARTIGAN: Financially, it's a huge hit.

REICH: Affordable housing has long been a problem in mountain resort towns, with vacation rentals overtaking housing workers live in. The pandemic made it worse as people who came here to work remotely stayed. So this summer, the agency in charge of marketing to tourists stopped. John Norton is the agency's director.

JOHN NORTON: Well, we don't want to throw gasoline on a fire. Hopefully, it's going to turn the dial down on the intensity.

REICH: But Sam Degenhard, who runs a private campground, thinks it's a bad decision.

SAM DEGENHARD: My first reaction was, how long is this going to happen? As a seasonal business, I'm only open in the summer.

REICH: Degenhard's guests and anyone staying in short-term rentals here pays a 4% lodging tax that pays for marketing. If the marketing agency isn't advertising, he says he's got to pay for that out of his own pocket.

DEGENHARD: My opinion in terms of the pause in marketing is that it mostly will have an impact to small businesses that don't have the resources to reach national and regional level marketing spends.

REICH: Most Crested Butte businesses are on board with at least temporarily pausing tourist advertising. Other Rockies resort towns wrestling with the same affordable housing and workforce challenges are also rethinking marketing, says Margaret Bowes with the Colorado Association of Ski Towns.

MARGARET BOWES: There are so many visitors that it results in traffic congestion and parking and two-hour waits at restaurants and overcrowding and overuse at trailheads. And so more is not always better is what a lot of these communities are finding.

REICH: But Bowes says no other town has gone as far as Crested Butte.

BOWES: I did a quick poll of my membership, and I did not find any other members that have full-on halted their summer advertising and marketing. But absolutely, there is a strong trend towards reducing the investment.

REICH: John Norton, the local tourism promoter, says that he still expects to advertise Crested Butte as a winter destination this year. But going forward, there are no plans set in stone for the busier months when it's warm.

NORTON: If we've still got the housing problem that we've got going on now, if that hasn't been substantially solved, I think there's an argument to make that we skip another summer.

REICH: For NPR News, I'm Chad Reich in Crested Butte, Colo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ODDISEE'S "SOCIAL INSECURITY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

News Director for RMCR partner station KBUT in Crested Butte.