Tourist spending bounces back from meager recent past
If it seemed like the summer weekends were crowded with events and visitors around town, that was not your imagination. Local economic data for the summer months show that tourist spending is bouncing back to levels not seen in the past few years.
Debbie Kovalik, director of economic, convention and visitor services for the city of Grand Junction, told Mesa County commissioners this week local lodging tax revenues are up more than 7 percent year-to-date over last year.
“It’s really gratifying for me to see this evolution occur, where we’re getting back to levels from at least four or five years ago,” Kovalik said.
She added that lodging tax numbers specifically for the second quarter showed an 8 percent gain over last year.
“That tells me that spring was good, and that we can look toward the third quarter doing even a little bit better,” she said.
Kovalik said the positive gains are directly event-driven and cited a number of recent draws during the summer season.
She said a recent geologist convention brought 500 attendees from all over the world, a bicycle tour of the vineyards drew 1,000 attendees, and the recently completed Colorado Mountain Winefest attracted 5,000 people, 85 percent of whom came from outside of Mesa County.
Also, more than 2,000 high school swimmers converged on the area for the annual Western Zone Swim Meet in late August. That event hasn’t been held in the area since 1994, but organizers were attracted to Grand Junction again because of the new natatorium at Colorado Mesa University, Kovalik said.
The arrival this year of the Grand Junction Rockies minor-league baseball team made an impact as well, but since it’s the team’s first year in the area, specific numbers about its economic impact are still being calculated, Kovalik said.
“The attendance (at local events) is good, the people that are coming from out of town are spending, and I think September is going to show strong gains in retail sales tax collections as well,” she said.
Kovalik said the area occupancy rate was measured at 58.6 percent in August, which lagged behind the state number of 73.9 percent. She said that low local number is “not concerning” and “skewed” because Grand Junction was one of the few communities statewide to add new hotels in the past year. Two new hotels were recently built, meaning 200 more rooms — or a 7 percent increase — were added to the local inventory.
She said the average daily rate for hotel rooms in Grand Junction is $81.43, compared with the statewide number of $124.85. Kovalik called that “good news” and said “hoteliers have a better opportunity to price themselves in a way that is great for them as a business, but still keeps us a great value destination.”
The 3 percent lodging tax applies primarily to hotel properties within city limits, and tax revenues get recirculated by funding the local Visitor and Convention Bureau toward marketing, visitor services and VCB operation and convention sales.
And in terms of marketing, Kovalik said new technologies are driving growth in their efforts online.
Unique visitors to the city’s tourism website at http://www.visitgrandjunction.com have increased 6 percent, while Internet page visits are up more than 20 percent, through August compared to last year.