Aspen lodges opening for summer under a cloudy future |

Aspen lodges opening for summer under a cloudy future

The St. Regis on a sunny afternoon in Aspen on Wednesday, June 10, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Aspen’s largest hotels are expecting smaller crowds this summer and some are anticipating more labor cuts into the fall.

Lodges have been gradually opening since public health orders allowed them to take overnight guests beginning May 27 under 50% capacity restrictions. Friday was the return of The Little Nell, Limelight and St. Regis. Hotel Jerome opens June 18.

The downtown accommodations usually would be preparing for next week’s big crowds in town for the Food & Wine Classic, traditionally held the third weekend of June but canceled this year.

With Food & Wine and Aspen’s other big-time summer events off the calendar, however, along with global coronavirus pandemic and public health order restrictions that have severely hampered the hospitality industry, the outlook for the next few months is less upbeat than usual, based on recent public filings.

Since June 2, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment received notifications from the St. Regis and W Aspen hotels regarding layoffs, furloughs and other labor measures connected to the coronavirus pandemic.

The letters were addressed to the CDLE and Mayor Torre under the Worker Readjustment and Retraining Notification Act. Each letter had nearly identical language, other than the number of affected employees. St. Regis said 263 of its 264 workers could be impacted; for W Aspen, 124 of its staff of 125 have been noticed of potential measures.

“The purpose of WARN (Worker Readjustment and Retraining Notification Act) is to provide employees affected by layoff with the time needed to become employed in order to minimize the negative economic impacts to individuals, families and communities and on the public unemployment insurance trust,” said a CDLE official in an email to The Aspen Times.

The federal law applies to business with 100 or more full-time permanent workers that will be laying off at least 50 employees from a single location.

The W Aspen, an 88-guestroom slopeside lodge near the gonodola on Aspen Mountain, is part of the Marriott brand and opened in August. St. Regis, which also is ski-in, ski-out, has 179 rooms and is on the mountain’s western base.

Letters from both hotels said they instituted such temporary measures as employee furloughs, layoff and hour reductions March 21, believing they would not go past six months.

“Based on public health guidance and business forecasts available at the time (in March), it was initially expected that these temporary actions would last significantly less than six months and that the location (St. Regis Aspen) would return to normal business levels,” the notices said. “These government COVID-19 directives, however, have repeatedly been expanded and extended and have forced people to remain in place, restricting business, large gatherings and travel in general. These expanded and extended government directives have caused a sudden, severe and worsening downturn in the hospitality industry that now makes it reasonably foreseeable that these temporary actions may extend beyond six months.”

Questions to W Aspen management concerning the extent of labor cuts were answered by its Marriott parent, which declined to go into specifics about possible measures it might take in Aspen.

“Due to widespread travel and social distancing restrictions, we have experienced significant drops in customer demand. Hotels are adjusting operations accordingly, which has impacted employment, resulting in staffing reductions, temporary leaves, and in some cases, termination notices,” said Marriott spokeswoman Casey Kennett in a statement to The Aspen Times.

Aspen Skiing Co.’s local lodges include The Little Nell and Limelight in Aspen, and another Limelight in Snowmass Village. Its Residences at Little Nell, a fractional property, opened May 28. The company hasn’t taken major labor cuts yet with its hotels’ staff.

“We had no salary reductions, pay cuts or furloughs,” said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle in email to The Aspen Times. “Of course employees were impacted when we were unable to open the hotels as originally scheduled, but most of those impacted were able to access unemployment benefits. We worked with salaried employees to find project work for them to do if they did not have enough work through their regular job and duties. Some salaried employees elected to take unemployment.”

Those workers on unemployment will return to Skico’s lodging properties “as needed to operate the properties at the allowable level. Those who have not yet returned to work because of restricted business levels can continue on unemployment until we are able to return to full staffing,” Hanle said.

While Skico closed its mountains March 17 in response to Gov. Jared Polis’ order shutting down ski area, employees were paid through the month, Hanle said.

“At that time we assisted with accessing their unemployment benefits, donated food and goods to our staff, and kept their benefits whole as they were at the time of the shutdown,” Hanle said. “We also waived rent for the month of April as Prilosec for employees living in ASC housing units.”

Pitkin County’s hospitality industry represents 24% of its jobs, according to report issued Wednesday by Silverthorne-based Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, which covers Eagle, Grand, Jackson, Pitkin and Summit counties

The five-county region had an overall employment rate of 21% in April, compared with 12% in Colorado and 14.7% that month.

“The main underlying cause of this is the heavy dominance of one industry: Tourism,” wrote Rachel Lunney, director of economic development Silverthorne-based Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, in the organization’s June update released Wednesday. “Tourism jobs account for upwards of 33% of all jobs in some of our region’s counties.”

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