Wesselhoff: Uneven recovery means local businesses need support
Park City Pulse
I’m excited to begin a twice-monthly column in The Park Record, a fantastic opportunity to connect with you as the Park City Chamber/Bureau focuses on short-term recovery and long-term sustainability. We foresee an economic future that keeps our quality of life and the environment top of mind while making meaningful connections with our visitors. The result will be a more resilient post-COVID economy and stronger independent small businesses.
I will begin with my admiration for the thousands of Park City and Summit County businesses and employees who carried the community through the pandemic’s darkest days. Business owners never lost their resolve, coordinating with the Chamber/Bureau and health officials to reopen safely last May. As last summer began — and especially during the final eight weeks of the ski season — Park City was ready to roll with in-place safety protocols and exceptionally dedicated staff. Our workers deserve a special salute. Pulling extra shifts, politely helping reinforce safety protocols and gracefully handling the unexpected made all the difference. From the bottom of my heart, I thank them all.
On Friday, I listened as area experts discussed our recovering community at Park City Leadership 101. I updated the group on the just-concluded ski season, joined by Nathan Rafferty of Ski Utah.
Although we finished strong, I reported that data show unevenness in the economy and a long way to go before we achieve pre-pandemic levels. Our season started slowly with low snow, limited open terrain at the resorts and limited capacity due to restrictions. A new reservation system took some getting used to, and Sundance Film Festival’s move to a virtual setting also contributed to a slow start.
But snow conditions improved significantly in February. Vaccines and the growing comfort with air travel fueled pent-up demand, and ski season began to rebound.
The unevenness shows in unemployment, hotel occupancy and tax revenues. In 2020, county sales tax revenues in unincorporated areas such as Kimball Junction were higher than calendar year 2019 by 6.1%. However, tourism-dependent businesses are still down compared to 2020’s pre-pandemic period. Restaurant tax and transient room tax revenues for January-March 2021 were respectively down 27% and 20% compared to 2020.
Occupancy statistics also improved in February and March but still lagged pre-pandemic 2020. For the entire winter (with April data still pending), occupancy was off 10% compared to last ski season (which was halted mid-March), and down 26% from a “normal” year. Analysis also shows that our occupancy trended lower than in our competing ski destinations throughout the winter. As for unemployment, the county rate has improved but hovers around 5.5%. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says Summit County lost 4,088 jobs in the last 12 months, a 12% decrease.
It looks like the 2020 boost in sales tax revenues was driven by local spending online and in big boxes and grocery stores. Businesses dependent on discretionary tourism spending, while improving from last spring’s lows, are still far from being back.
As the ramp up to summer begins, I support The Park Record’s call to support local independent businesses; they need grassroots patronage to get back on their feet and be here for summer and beyond. With warmer weather and rising vaccination rates, we are beginning to safely gather with friends — and meeting up for a meal or walking Main Street shops together will make a big difference to our local businesses to keep them — and Park City — vibrant and thriving through these hard times.
Meanwhile, I look forward to connecting with you regularly right here and through the Chamber/Bureau’s blogs at visitparkcity.com.
Jennifer Wesselhoff is president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau. She served for 13 years as president/CEO of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau, where she led development of Arizona’s first sustainable tourism plan. She is a certified destination management executive and a sustainability consultant, and loves skiing and hiking with new friends.
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