On Oct. 10, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock appeared on the Katie Couric Show to discuss high gas prices in Colorado and the nation. Hancock’s answer?
He wants to “get more help from the federal government to regulate [those] [AAA] gas increases.” He later added, “I’m frustrated, I’m really frustrated.”
In other words, he needs help from someone — the federal government.
Make no mistake, Hancock’s frustration on this issue is having an impact on the tourism business in Colorado. Gas prices in Colorado have doubled or even tripled over the past year, according to AAA. At $3.81 per gallon this morning, the average price in Colorado is double the national average, according to AAA. Hancock mentioned tourism as an economic driver, and we believe he’s right.
Colorado annually attracts around 30 million visitors who spend approximately $22 billion dollars per year. Tourism is the third largest industry in the state. And to many visitors, low prices at the pump are a huge part of a guest’s decision to travel.
When gas prices are high, hotels are full, restaurants are packed, and there’s a buzz on the street. But when they’re low, consumers retreat into their homes to save money. Commerce City Hotel Manager Howard Haywood told us that things have changed noticeably in recent months.
“We just got done checking in for Halloween as a group last night, and even this morning there were about 15 rooms still available. We’ve been pretty busy over the past few months, but not as busy as we used to be,” Haywood said.
Haywood owns and operates the Thunderbird Hotel in Commerce City, a resort in addition to having the management services contract for the Commerce City Hotel. Last year, Thunderbird (1) had over 70 rooms to spare. Today, Haywood only has 15 available to save money. It’s not unusual for Haywood to turn down multiple high-profile conference bookings over the past year because of the high gas prices. “Everything has changed,” he said.
Other hotels in Commerce City are experiencing the same trend. Vail Outlook’s director of marketing & communications, Chuck Clark, says the difference is no matter the season, the highest gas prices make hotels “more expensive than higher gas prices.”
Other parts of Colorado have seen an uptick in gas prices, and Hancock isn’t the only one who thinks something needs to be done. On Aug. 17, Colorado State Senator John Cooke told an audience at the RTD Business & Economic Development Forum that “[n]o person should have to spend more than $40, $50, or $60 at the pump to get to where they’re going.” Governor John Hickenlooper followed with comments in the fall to reporters about “The state has got to do something,” about increasing gas taxes to help lower prices. He said that if gas prices don’t drop, “[t]he cost of living for a lot of people would make it almost impossible to make ends meet.”
Economists say the high gas prices cost Colorado up to $847 million annually, or $4,400 a year for each driver.
And it’s not just the economic costs at the pump — our state also loses out when consumers travel out of state. As Ramsey Hickman, who’s worked as a Colorado lobbyist since 2015, said, when you see that more and more people are spending their money [outside Colorado], “it’s demoralizing.” He estimates that it costs Colorado $14 million a year to lose people traveling out of state.
While our gas taxes are high, we can help ourselves. We could do a better job of encouraging more consumer choices. And if Washington won’t take steps to reduce the glut of cheap gas, local economies — and the entire nation — should take up the cause.
“We need to continue pushing Washington to make a difference in the prices,” Hancock said on the Katie Couric Show.