The Denver Post | Colorado’s mountain resorts again see record spending
The fastest growing months for visits in some high country destinations are the so-called off-season: September, May and October
Visitors and locals are spending record amounts in Colorado’s mountain communities, with sales tax collections again reaching all-time highs in 2016.
For a fourth year in a row, community coffers are swelling in the high country as sales tax collections shatter records and climb beyond budget expectations in resort communities like Aspen, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Snowmass Village, Steamboat Springs, Telluride, Vail and Winter Park.
The sales tax numbers mirror skier visits, resort revenues and statewide tourism numbers, all of which have been climbing at a record-setting trajectory since the state’s high country economies began scrambling from the recession in 2012. Skier visits to Colorado resorts reached an all-time high of 13 million in 2015-16 and early indications show that 2016-17 visitation will near or surpass that number.
More than 77.7 million people visited Colorado in 2015. The latest research from the Colorado Tourism Office shows fewer out-of-state vacationers traveled to Colorado in the summer of 2016, but they spent more, which jibes with sales tax collections in mountain destinations.
Breckenridge’s 9 percent increase in taxable sales over 2015 came from healthy increases in retail, restaurant and short-term lodging taxes. (For the marijuana cheerleaders: Breckenridge’s vibrant weedtail sales climbed 18 percent in 2016, reaching $1.4 million, which still accounts for less than 2 percent of the total taxable spending in town.)
A lot of that revenue goes into improvements in moving people around the increasingly congested town, said Breckenridge manager Rick Holman. The town this year breaks ground on a $1.5 million pedestrian project with heated sidewalks encouraging more people to stroll around. And the town just ordered its second trolley to bolster its new service. Town leaders keep four months of operational cash in the bank — about $8 million — in case times get tough.
“These are good problems to have,” Holman said. “I think the popularity of Colorado in general is driving this. I believe our proximity to Denver certainly helps us. We are seeing huge numbers of people moving to Denver and they are coming to Colorado to enjoy the outdoors and they like to come up to the high country.”
In Aspen, visitor spending last year climbed to more than $713 million, marking a more than 60 percent increase from the collapse of 2009. The city’s tax collections in 2016 climbed 7 percent over the previous year.
The largest chunk of those collections goes toward parks and open space. The city’s 4-acre John Denver Sanctuary is actually a water treatment plant, filtering storm water runoff through a sprawling garden. Tax dollars also are bolstering the city’s transportation system and several new affordable housing projects are in the works, said city finance director Don Taylor.
Winters are busy in ski towns. Always have been. And in the last several years, summer has grown just as bustling. The latest sales tax collections show a slight plateauing in July and August, similar to the leveling seen in the winter months years ago. That’s pushing growth to the shoulder seasons. The fastest growing months for visits in some high country destinations are the so-called off-season: September (Steamboat and Aspen), May (Breckenridge, Telluride and Vail) and October (Winter Park). The total spending during those shoulder months still pales compared to the high season, but it reflects a growing effort to push traffic to less-busy times with fall and spring events.
Even though Telluride has enjoyed several years of monthly annual growth in visitor spending, tourism tax revenue from both Telluride and Mountain Village is climbing almost 10 percent faster in those shoulder months versus its vibrant core season.
“There is more opportunity to grow in those months. For us, October and May are clearly an opportunity,” said Michael Martelon, the head of Visit Telluride.
Increase in taxable sales from 2015-2016
- Aspen: 6.7 percent
- Breckenridge: 8.6 percent
- Crested Butte: 3.9 percent
- Frisco: 10 percent
- Snowmass Village: 2.8 percent
- Steamboat Springs: 6.9 percent
- Telluride: 6.6 percent
- Vail: 2.4 percent
- Winter Park: 6.6 percent