Domestic travel during COVID helps break lodging tax record – The Journal

The Anasazi Heritage Center, 27501 Colorado Highway 184 in Dolores. (Journal file photo)

Urban flight bumps up revenue to $342,417, up 42% from 2021

Domestic travel and city residents’ escape to Colorado’s outdoors during the pandemic helped boost revenue from Montezuma County’s lodgers tax to new heights in 2022.

Funds available to chambers of commerce and other organizations that support tourism in the county is $342,417, the most since the lodgers tax was created. Of that amount, $314,200 was requested for grant access.

After the lodgers tax committee meeting on April 15, the grant disbursement was passed unanimously. It included Dolores Chamber of Commerce, $45,000; Mancos Chamber of Commerce, $50,000; Cortez Cultural Center, $34,000; Mesa Verde Country, $100,000; and Ute Mountain Roundup Rodeo, $2,500.

Funds used for emergency or contingency distribution is $78,217.

The 1.9% county lodgers tax is applied to 1,365 rooms scattered across Cortez, Dolores and Mancos. It is distributed across five hotels, four bed-and-breakfasts, 14 RV parks, one hostel, 10 vacation rentals, 14 cabin rentals and three guest ranches. The tax is paid by the visitors who stay at the locations.

Toward the end of the year, the tax is gathered and dispersed as grants to various organizations and groups who have applied for the funds. The goal of the lodgers tax is to put money back into the tourism economy.

The Farview Lodge in Mesa Verde National Park contributes to a lodgers tax that helps fund area chambers of commerce and tourism organizations. (Journal file photo)

Although tax funds from short-term rentals previously went into the state’s general fund, 2022 will be the first year that all the funds will be distributed in the local economy.

“We are hoping to see a bit of an uptick in the year-end total once this money is sent through from the state to our county,” said Brian Bartlett, secretary of the Montezuma County Lodgers Tax committee.

The $342,417 in 2022 revenue represented a nearly 43% increase compared with the $196,768 raised in 2020 and $196,700 in 2021, and it more than doubled the $149,000 raised in 2019.

Despite the local economic slowdown of 2020 and 2021, Bartlett said, the impact was less than expected.

“Although we experienced an immediate stop to all foreign travel, our domestic travel picked up the slack in 2021 and helped propel us to our biggest available amount ever awarded in 2022,” Bartlett said.

Southwest Colorado area saw an influx of domestic travel because of its rural appeal. Because many big cities faced tight restrictions during the pandemic, urban residents visited Southwest Colorado for its options for camping and outdoor recreation.

Before COVID, the average night stay for visitors was 2.6 nights, but in 2021-2022, the average night stay jumped to 3.1.

“Many of our short-term vacation rentals were booked out much of 2020 and all of 2021 by these folks who decided to set up a ‘remote base camp’ from which to work while living in and enjoying the benefits of our incredible area,” Bartlett said.

Campgrounds and RV parks in the area also saw an increase in business because of the rise of RV purchases in 2021.

High gasoline prices cooled RV traffic in 2022, but Bartlett is hopeful that situation will be remedied in 2023.

Although international travel fell below pre-pandemic levels, Bartlett says forecasts call for a rebound in international visitors starting in 2023, with a noticeable impact by 2024.

“This is a huge issue for us locally because although we appreciate any and all travel into and through our area, studies have proven for many years now that international travelers spend on average five times as much money in the market as domestic travelers do,” Bartlett said. “This deeply affects not only hotels and motels and campgrounds but restaurants, activity providers, gift shops and shopping in general for our partners in market.”

The largest number of international travelers has come from Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia, but predictions see an uptick in visitors from Italy and France in 2023 and 2024.

If international travel recovers as expected, it is possible the lodgers tax will have another record-breaking year as it continues to impact tourism in the county and surrounding areas.

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