Low snow in Marchsapped Vail business
Vail’s three-month-long economic rebound stumbled during a snow-starved March.
The town’s 4 percent sale tax yielded just $2.33 million, which was 1.4 percent less than March, 2003, when the war in Iraq broke out.
Last year the war with Iraq caused global tourism to shrivel and Vail’s sales tax receipts to drop 12.8 percent.
March is vital for many resort businesses, who depend on the traditionally strong month to carry them through the off-season. It’s typically the second-strongest month after December, retailers said.
Despite spring break, a lack of snow kept skiers away from resorts here and slowed retail business last month.
“We’re a snow-driven business,” said J.T. Thompson owner of the Bag & Pack Shop in Vail. “It didn’t occur to the level we would like to have seen. We weren’t buried in sales.”
Savvy resort visitors now seem to be booking vacations based on up-to-the-minute information – including snow reporters – available on the Internet, said Frank Johnson, director of the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau.
“That’s really helped change the pattern,” he said. “Before you planned and took a trip regardless of the snow.”
That, and the availability of inexpensive air fares, has caused people to book later or even change vacation plans altogether if snow conditions aren’t good, Johnson said.
The town’s sales tax receipts are generally accepted as a measure of the economic vitality of the town’s retail businesses. Over the last decade, that businesses activity, and the corresponding sales tax receipts, have flattened or declined due, in part, to increasing competition downvalley and swings in the national economy.
But there is good news: The town’s sales tax totals for the ski season, November through March, are up 4.5 percent. There were more skiers this season, too. The town’s 4 percent ski lift ticket tax levied on each ticket sold was up 3 percent in March and 6.5 percent for the season.
“March is usually a strong month, but this year it was just okay,” said Mick Warth, manger of Russel’s Restaurant on Bridge Street. “It ended kind of weak. January was a record and February was really strong, too. March just sort of tailed off, but no grumbles.”
That decline follows January and February’s double-digit gains of 10 and 10.5 percent driven by the return of more overnight visitors to Vail and Beaver Creek. Last ski season and the ski season before brought herds of day skiers that filled the parking lots and adjacent roadways to Vail and Beaver Creek. But day skiers, unlike overnight and longer-term visitors, spend far less money per day.
Evidence of the return of destination guests is validated in increased tax receipts from hotels and lodges and double-digit increases in passenger numbers at the Eagle County Airport.
“This year there were a minimum of world crises, an improving economy and pent up demand,” said Johnson. “The destination visitor was definitely here.”
How ’bout April?
This month’s sales tax receipts are not yet totaled, but anecdotal evidence suggests it was stronger than last April.
“April was much better than it was a year ago,” said Thompson. “Part of that was that Easter fell earlier. We’re happy to end on a good note. That helped.”
Looking farther ahead, business and group business reservations for summer are beginning to show some strength, Johnson said. The resurgence of the national economy, coupled with “pent-up” demand, is driving business, he said.
“We’re seeing a huge increase in the number of leads and they’re beginning to generate bookings,” he said. “We should see strong summer and fall meeting activity.
Cliff Thompson can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.
• Vail’s sales tax for March: $2.33 million
• Down 1.4 percent or $33,500 from March 2003
• Lift ticket tax for March is up 3.3 percent