September sets a new record for area lodging

CB’s golden fall period displaces July as busiest month

[ by Mark Reaman ]

The biggest lodging tax collection month in Gunnison County—ever—was this past September. It was bigger than any July, which traditionally is the largest month for lodging tax collections. September 2020 saw $363,812 come in, while the next largest month, July 2020, brought in $358,038. Last September’s lodging tax revenue in the county was $276,461.

The big September seemed to follow the trend seen in the warm months since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. People flocked to places with open spaces and the county’s lodging tax that helps fund the Local Marketing District (LMD) is an indicator of that. Any lodging stay of fewer than 30 days is subject to the tax. That includes things like short-term rentals (STRs), campsites, RV sites, traditional hotels and bed-and-breakfast stays.

“There are a multitude of factors that drove such a big September. We were in a good position going into the pandemic,” explained Tourism and Prosperity Partnership marketing director Andrew Sandstrom. “Generally, we are not an event or conference-driven destination. During COVID these large gatherings were cancelled. Our normal business is more one-off travelers, so we were not as impacted by large gatherings being cancelled. As you know, TAPP’s marketing has focused on the trails and our public lands. During COVID, people wanted to get outside and away from the crowds. Our messaging and product offered what people wanted.

“The last factor is the virtual component,” Sandstrom continued. “With folks being able to work and attend school from anywhere, they stayed longer than they normally would have. We didn’t see the normal mid-August drop-off as everyone went back to school.”
The lodging tax numbers were primarily recorded in the north end of the valley, with Crested Butte showing LMD collections of $104,278 and Mt. Crested Butte tallying $103,788. Gunnison had $73,564 and the rest of the county pulled in $82,199.

“Generally, through the summer we saw that there was an affinity to short-term rentals and away from some of the commercial hotel properties,” said Sandstrom. “People would prefer to be in a stand-alone home over a large hotel. I would imagine this trend would also be reflected in the sales tax revenues.”

More people visiting the valley usually means more people spending money at other local businesses, so sales tax was indeed strong this fall for local entities as well.

It appears Crested Butte did well because of those short-term rental properties versus standard hotel rooms. The town’s STR rental tax collected $72,815 last September, the highest month ever recorded for Crested Butte. That then translated to a robust sales tax month for the town.

“September was a very high month for sales tax collections, with $619,494 coming in this past September compared to $517,545 in September of 2019,” said Crested Butte finance director Rob Zillioux. “In fact, it was close to the July level of $653,455 and surpassed August, which came in at $559,531.”

For the year through September, Crested Butte sales tax collections are off just 2 percent. Zillioux expects that small difference will be made up and 2020 will be stronger than 2019. “The ‘Zoom Boom/COVID-19 escapism’ has pushed lodging,” he postulated. “Folks are staying longer and supply/demand economics are driving rates up. Grocery sales are reflective of the Zoom Boom and are seeing bullish results, with a 40 percent increase recorded from September 2020 compared to 2019.”

Mt. Crested Butte sales tax saw a pop in September as well. Finance director Karl Trujillo said the town is up 17 percent in sales tax for September compared to 2019, and it did indeed beat out July and August of this year. September saw sales tax collections of $214,362 overall while August brought in $155,848 and July $196,470. The 2019 September collections were $183,397.

Measuring lodging revenues from sales tax for the latest quarter, Trujillo said the numbers were down 11 percent for the three months from July through September but early autumn saw an increase in people. July was actually off 30 percent and August off 23 percent in lodging sales taxes when compared to last year but September saw an increase of 39 percent in lodging revenue in comparison to 2019.

“COVID certainly has had an impact with both real estate and tourism,” noted Trujillo, who pointed out the large numbers of people who visited the nearby backcountry all summer.

Gunnison too was up this fall and had one of its best sales tax Septembers in years. In 2020 the sales tax collection totaled $776,044, which was a 7 percent increase over 2019. Sales tax collected through lodging was off a bit in the city from 2019, decreasing 1.57 percent. For the year-to-date figures, Gunnison sales tax collections are off just 1.5 percent compared to last year.

County commissioners were informed on November 24 that county-wide sales tax revenue in September was up 31 percent from last year, tallied at $325,464 and only slightly lower than July, which was 335,046.

“TAPP and the board are very excited to see that despite the challenges the pandemic has brought across the globe we have seen our economy generally outperforming many other communities,” concluded Sandstrom. “The gains are not universal across businesses, but the best we could do is get people here to spend their money and get that circulating around our local economy.”

For the record, the other months to record more than $300,000 in Gunnison County lodging tax collections were August 2020 ($304,201), July 2019 ($309,188), and July 2018 ($313,268).

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