Officials try to put out tourists’ fears of fire

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

While Aspen is miles away from the nearest smoldering embers, some prospective visitors to the mountains are reconsidering vacations because of news about wildfires.

Dave Silbar, a Chicago resident with three young daughters, said initially his children’s health was in the forefront of his family’s decision about their upcoming Aspen vacation.

“Also, we haven’t taken a vacation since before [my youngest daughter] was born,” Silbar said. “If you’re going to spend a week and money on a vacation, you want to make sure that it’s not clouded by any smoke, no pun intended. There are a lot of places to spend two grand on a week’s vacation, and for this to be hovering over you, it’s definitely a concern.”

He said photos in his local newspapers and reports on TV kept him abreast of the state’s flare-ups, but he does note it’s easy to blow the fires out of proportion.

“It’s difficult to know exactly what’s going on because when you see a map of where the fires are and an overview of the state, you notice how little the fires actually take up,” he said.

According to the Web site for the Colorado Travel and Tourism Bureau, 1 percent of Colorado’s 22.6 million acres of forest land has been impacted by the wildfires. The Aspen Chamber Resort Association is trying to get that word out by providing a “wildfire update” link on its Web site.

“What are we going to do to let the world know we’re open for business?” asked Hana Pevny, ACRA president, at a Tuesday morning meeting.

She said her office has received numerous calls from travelers concerned about vacation plans.

“After the fires broke out, our call volume, which had been off to a really strong pace for this summer, has definitely subsided,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen-Snowmass. “There’s no question the fires have impacted our call volume, and we did have quite a few calls from concerned guests, but the majority of which we were able to put their concerns at ease.”

Tomcich said “very, very few cancellations” have resulted from concern over wildfires, but said he’ll have to look at bookings on a day-to-day basis in order to see any trends.

He added that, on Monday, Stay Aspen-Snowmass saw the busiest single booking day for the entire summer.

“It’s hard to figure out exactly where we’re headed now – it’s been a bit schizophrenic, since we were off to such a strong start,” he said. “But if [Monday] was any indication, perhaps things are starting to go back to normal.”

Jacquie Schuster of Boca Raton, Fla., said while she planned a vacation to Colorado and Aspen with her husband, she first worried about the spread of the Coal Seam fire and then became concerned with air quality and smoke inhalation.

“I did a lot of research on the Internet and found some wonderful sites with information,” Schuster said of her final decision to go forward with the vacation. “We are very optimistic. The one thing that I am hoping for is that smoky air won’t take away from the beauty of the mountains, rivers and scenic views.”

Pevny said ACRA is pairing with the Aspen Skiing Co. to send out a mass e-mail to 80,000 potential visitors with a “We haven’t been affected, come see how great Aspen is in the summertime” message. In addition, advertising that ACRA has purchased on America Online has been combined with other Rocky Mountain businesses under a “Colorado is Safe” subhead.

“I believe every resort, the state and the tourism economy as a whole is suffering – I don’t think Aspen is suffering worse than anyone,” Pevny said. “When you put up a map of Colorado, I don’t think a lot of people understand where we are in relation to the various fires. We’ve been keeping a positive attitude with visitors that are calling our center, and letting them know we’re open for business and we’re fine.”

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