The number of people booking hotel rooms in Moffat County hit record numbers last year. That trend held through the first quarter of this year, but hotels are reporting a severe drop that started in May.
Steve Miller, director of the Moffat County Tourism Association, reported lodging tax collections for 2003 of $82,265 -- the most money ever collected through the 1.9 percent tax on hotel rooms. It was the first time revenue for a single year broke the $80,000 mark, although 2001 was less than $800 short.
Lodging tax revenue for this year's first quarter is more than $20,000. Last year's first quarter netted $9,500.
"We're nearly double where we were in the first quarter for last year," Miller said.
He said hotels and motels don't always pay their quarterly taxes quarterly, so it's hard to determine what months the money actually came in, but area hotel managers report a successful first quarter.
Mike Durner, manager of the Holiday Inn in Craig, said that hotel revenue is up "triple digits" over last year's first quarter.
He attributes the increase to bookings by power plant retrofit workers and oil and gas developers.
Miller said 2003 brought in record numbers for the same reasons, but added the five large conferences Craig hosted and a decent hunting season to the mix.
Revenue from the lodging tax is allocated by the Moffat County Tourism Association to market Northwest Colorado. This year, MCTA budgeted $15,000 for grants to promote local programs and activities, $20,000 for a 16-page magazine detailing the area's history and recreation opportunities, $10,000 for advertising and $18,000 to help fund the visitor's center.
"The (revenue) is really a nice thing to have," Miller said. "It's money locals benefit from, but don't pay."
Whether the industry can maintain a record-setting pace remains to be seen.
Durner said that bookings hit rock bottom in May.
"As high as we were in April, we were that low in May," he said.
Other hotel owners said they were charting the same trend.
Cindy Contreras, assistant manager at Super 8, said the hotel's busy first quarter trickled to nearly nothing in May.
"It's slowed since (the first quarter) more so than last year," she said. "That's when all the power plant guys left."
Softball tournaments and the Whittle the Wood Rendezvous helped bolster June sales, Contreras said.
Durner said July through September are traditional summer travel months and expects business to begin climbing again.
PricewaterhouseCoopers' lodging research predicts a 3 percent increase in travel spending in 2004 and sets average household vacation spending at $1,756.
PricewaterhouseCoopers provides industry-focused assurance, tax and advisory services for public and private clients
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210 at email@example.com