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The Antlers Hotel in downtown Colorado Springs is pictured through an outdoor archway in the courtyard of the hotel on Nov. 11, 2020. (Forrest Czarnecki/The Gazette)

The governor's office and a trade group for Colorado hotels have developed a new program to allow venues that certify they are following state health directives to boost their meeting capacity allowed under the state's COVID-19 rules.

The compromise is designed to help hotels avoid losing bookings for meetings planned for next year. Indoor meetings aren't allowed at all in the 30 Colorado counties in COVID-Red level, including El Paso County. The deal has been in the works for months and follows a request made several months ago by the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association, which represents 300 of the state's largest hotels.

Under a planning document from the governor's office, capacities for all indoor venues would remain at 50% once counties move to the Orange level, or the next less restrictive level, but the cap on participants for certified venues would be four times higher, or 100 people. The cap for outdoor events would grow from 75 to 175 people. Capacities for both indoor and outdoor events also would be higher for certified venues in counties in yellow and blue levels.

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The document forecasts, based on the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine, that most counties would be in the orange level by February, yellow by mid-March, blue by May and green by June. The forecasts are "educated guesses" and subject to change based on pandemic trends, according to the document. But lodging association CEO Amie Mayhew said the forecasts are "the most conservative with room to expand further."

Mayhew said the planning document gives the state's hotels a tool they can bring to clients for conversations about upcoming meeting bookings. She said no start date has been set for the certified venue program, but she expects it will be in place before February and most Colorado hotels will gain the certification.

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"This is the result of months of discussions. We need additional (venue) capacity and solid guidance to save 2021 (bookings). This is not a silver bullet but a step in the right direction," Mayhew said. "We certainly appreciate their (the governor's office) willingness to work with us. It has been long time in coming."

The association submitted a five-page list of safety protocols for event venues, including notifying participants of mask and social-distancing requirements, requiring contact tracing, extensive cleaning requirements, bans on self-service food and drink distribution, monitoring of employee health status, protective gear requirements and changes in how participants move through the venue.

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"This work by the governor and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is a first step towards developing a reopening strategy for meetings and events," said Visit Colorado Springs CEO Doug Price. Meeting "planners are asking when Colorado is going to reopen to groups and how many people can attend. This is a starting point that the Colorado hotel industry has been asking for. To date, Colorado continues to be at a competitive disadvantage compared to other states who are aggressively opening and booking groups into the future."

The certified venue plan is similar to a certified business program the state is testing in Mesa County and considering whether to expand statewide. The Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC is part of a statewide coalition of 45 chambers, trade association and other business groups that is urging Gov. Jared Polis and the state health agency to expand the Mesa County program.

Contact Wayne Heilman 636-0234

Facebook www.facebook.com/wayne.heilman

Twitter twitter.com/wayneheilman

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