By Jesse Wood
Occupancy tax collection figures for the calendar year in 2015 show double-digit growth for Watauga County and the impact that December’s record warm weather had on tourism in the High Country during a winter month.
For the calendar year, lodges in Boone, Blowing Rock and the greater Watauga County collected $3,349,168 through the 6 percent tax levied on short-term lodging rentals by the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority. This is an increase of nearly 12 percent or $357,661 over 2014.
“Looking at the numbers, they don’t lie,” Tracy Brown, executive director of the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority, said. “We are pretty tickled with it.”
Watauga County saw an occupancy tax collection increase of 20 percent versus 10 percent for Blowing Rock and 6 percent for Boone for the calendar year. As for the current fiscal year, which began in July, Boone is up 10.6 percent, Blowing Rock is up 9.7 percent and the County is up 20.2 percent so far, Watauga County TDA Executive Director Wright Tilley noted.
Only one month featured a significant decline in tax collection year over year for Watauga County as a whole. That month was December, which featured an 8 percent decline over 2014 for the county as a whole and 22 percent decline for Boone.
Tilley attributed this decline to the record-warmth that occurred around the Christmas holidays – weather that was brutal on the ski industry.
“The county lodging properties fared better than the Town of Boone and Town of Blowing Rock properties. Most chain hotels offer cancellation up to 24 hours before the arrival date, but the Bed and Breakfasts and cabin rentals have different cancellation policies,” Tilley said, explaining the differences between collections of the county and municipalities during December.
Boone’s collection figures for March declined 10 percent and weighed down the county’s overall numbers for that month. March, which was down less than one percent for the entire county, was the only other month to see an overall decline.
Tilley noted that three Boone hotels were undergoing renovations in February and March and had rooms out of inventory, which contributed to March being down overall.
Brown said that TDAs and destination marketing organizations have seen a trend for the previous six or seven years of positive growth. Brown mentioned that this trend is “across the board, not just the High Country.”
“I don’t know if it’s sign of the economy, lower gas prices or maybe partly pent up demand – people just wanting to get out and get away,” Brown said. “We hope that trend continues. It’s a great thing for a destination that relies so heavily on tourism.”
Brown said that his office conducted a survey with retailers just after all the leaf lookers enjoyed the fall color in the High Country and that survey had just as much good news as the occupancy tax collection figures show.
“After fall color had left and we were all able to catch our breath before winter started, just about all the businesses in town reported increase in foot traffic, hoteliers were having more folks stay and restaurants all reported good sales. Retail was up,” Brown said. “Overall, it was just a great year.”