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Vail tax revenue down, but not as much as first feared

After a 70% decline in April, the summer has seen less-steep declines from 2019

Sales tax collections are lower than 2019 in Vail and the rest of Eagle County, but the declines haven't been as steep as once feared.
By the numbers
  • 9%: Decline from 2019 in year to date sales tax collections in Avon through July 31.
  • 22%: Decline from 2019 in year to date sales tax collections in Vail through July 31.
  • 5%: Decline from 2019 in year to date sales tax collections in Eagle County through June 30.

Sales tax revenue is the lifeblood of town government in Colorado. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, tax collections have taken a hit, but not as catastrophically as once feared.

The town of Vail is the biggest sales tax generator in the valley. That town has been hit hardest, with a year-to-date decline of 22% through the end of July.

But the town’s collections have rebounded since March and April. In March, when the state’s ski industry shut down, the town’s sales tax collections were roughly half what they were for the same month in 2019.

April’s decline was even more steep, with 2020 collections down about 70% from the previous year.

Guests returning, in lower numbers

Since then, shops have reopened, with restrictions, and guests have returned to the valley, albeit in lower numbers than past years.

All things considered, the last few months have been successful.

“Summer’s been great,” Venture Sports owner Mike Brumbaugh said. Venture Sports was only closed for five days at the beginning of the shutdown, but has been open since. Still, he said, “We lost March and we lost April,” two of the business’s most lucrative months.

Since then, though, Brumbaugh said his business has posted “outstanding” numbers.

“I’ve been delightfully surprised,” he added.

Vail Chamber & Business Association Director Alison Wadey said members of that group generally believe summer business has been good.

“Everyone’s been pleasantly surprised,” Wadey said. Visitation has been good, she said, and local residents are supporting local businesses. Colorado residents have stayed close to home for the most part, which means they’ve headed to nearby mountains for their summer getaways.

“Restaurants and businesses have stepped up to the plate — they’ve been innovative,” Wadey said.

Visitors have also found plenty of entertainment, although in different formats than past years. That’s been funded in large part by the town of Vail.

A ‘welcoming environment’

It adds up to a “welcoming environment that’s safe,” Wadey added.

Besides entertainment, the town has also created areas in the resort villages where people can wander with adult beverages in hand.

Wadey said that’s common practice at European resorts, and is something many people believe Vail should always have emulated.

At the Hotel Sebastian in Vail, general manager Bryan Austin said that lodge has seen good occupancy over the summer.

While group business has essentially vanished, along with international visitation and weddings, Austin said occupancy has been “much better than we were forecasting,” particularly in July and August. Room rates were lower than previous years, but that was expected, Austin said.

But people in rooms feed restaurants, shops and spas.

Austin noted that virtually all of the Sebastian’s summer business has booked just days before guests’ travel dates. And, he added, people are driving to Vail from farther-flung locations.

“The drive-in market is a six- or seven-hour drive now,” he said.

Austin noted that much of the Sebastian’s summer business has been return guests. But, he added, there have been plenty of new guests, too.

Austin said he hopes some of those new summer guests return in the winter.

“It’s families, not groups,” Austin said, adding that remote work and school has prompted some families to travel on Thursday through the weekend.

“People can work from a hotel room, so they think, ‘Let’s head up,’” Austin said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.


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