Spring break crowds bring business success in March
Preliminary numbers for spring break visitors showed that 2022 would mark a busy year for Summit County, and businesses owners are confirming that March kept them occupied.
Diane Burris, owner of Cool River Coffee House and Cafe in Breckenridge, said that she saw a vast improvement in how many visitors came in February and March compared to winter months like December and January. She said that staffing was good for her business and that her tight-knit team was able to handle the larger crowds.
“March was great,” Burris said. “There was definitely a weekend — I think it was the second weekend of March — where all of us were like, ‘Oh, what the heck happened?’ There were so many people.”
Earlier this year, the county’s 2021 sales tax collections were up about 23% compared to 2019 and up about 35% compared to 2020. In Breckenridge, sales tax collections were $7.2 million over what it had budgeted year to date, according to reporting from early March. Much of that, however, was estimated to come from the short-term rental industry.
Despite staffing concerns that some businesses had a few months ago, managers and owners agreed that they were excited to witness Summit County bustling again. Some said that they were seeing crowds that were very similar to what they would have pre-pandemic, while others said that travelers looking to escape urban areas during the pandemic have kept them busy. During Presidents Day weekend, the first weekend since early 2020 that did not have any county public health orders, businesses called the crowds “intense,” marking a trend that would extend into the spring.
Tourism professionals across Summit County were expecting this spring break period to be busy. By the middle of February, nights booked by visitors in Breckenridge exceeded 2021 by 34% and surpass 2019 by 13%, with visitation peaking the week of March 12-19. Spring break weekends consistently bring in the heaviest traffic of the winter season, according to information from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
All but one of the top-10, three-day winter weekends for traveling were in March. Each of those weekends had totals of over 135,000 people driving through the Eisenhower Tunnel throughout the period. The highest ever — March 18-20, 2016 — had almost 150,000 people. As of Sunday, April 3, CDOT had not released its 2022 totals.
Ste-V Day, owner of Smok N’ Bra in Frisco, echoed the same sentiment toward having an active March and spring break season.
“It was busy. It was sunny. We got the snow we needed I think for the people to enjoy the mountain,” Day said. “I think we’ve stayed pretty busy throughout the whole season. There’s been a lot of people in town, and I think it’s because there’s more daily tickets being sold (for skiing). There’s more short-term rentals, as well.”
Day said that spring brings special events like high school proms and weddings, which keeps her busy, as well, since her business also provides formal wear for customers. Wedding professionals across Summit County are noting a boom in nuptial-related business, with some planners having record-breaking years with larger, more elaborate ceremonies.
“There’s been many events,” Day said. “Not only weddings, but confirmations are starting back up, Communions and all of the events in between. Everyone is now starting to be able to have their little family events. Then there’s conferences in Keystone at the conference center. Yeah, it’s just it’s been kind of busy in general.”
The booming business may be fruitful in the future. Last week, the Colorado Legislature made a move to allow communities to use successful tourism to fund necessities such as affordable housing and child care. Because of HB22-1117, local governments can decide to use money that comes from lodging taxes for other things besides tourism marketing. All lodging taxes previously went toward marketing, but now, 90% of the lodging tax funds can be used outside of tourism marketing. There is currently no countywide lodging tax in Summit County, though towns may have individual ones.
“If the tourism community, and the industry, needs housing, because they need workers to be able to power the tourism industry, that should be an allowable use of funds, too,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a press conference in Edwards on Thursday.
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