Taxable sales in Steamboat Springs slipped in June while other mountain towns posted gains.
One city official cautioned against making assumptions about the entire summer based on June alone, but business leaders said most retailers were down.
"I'm not sure I would draw a lot of conclusions from (the June report)," Steamboat Springs Finance Director Don Taylor said. "June is a slow month for us. The next two months will tell the story for us."
June taxable sales were up in Winter Park, Aspen, Vail and Glenwood Springs by at least 3 percent. Winter Park led the pack with a 20 percent increase. However, Winter Park's total sales in June were about 15 percent of Steamboat's.
Aspen, with total June sales of $29 million compared with Steamboat's $21.3 million, was up 7.5 percent over June 2002.
Taylor expects to have preliminary numbers for July within a week. He tracks taxable sales in other mountain towns, rather than actual sales tax collections, because the rate of tax varies from town to town.
Although the town of Vail's taxable sales were up almost 8 percent in June, its sales, at $17.7 million, were significantly lower than Steamboat's.
June sales tax collected in Steamboat totaled $961,309 compared with $982,147 in June 2002. That's a decline of 2.12 percent. Year-to-date sales tax collections are $7.15 million, off 2.84 percent over the same time in 2002.
Restaurants were off 6.3 percent in June, based upon sales tax receipts. Liquor stores and sellers of sporting goods were up a fraction of a point during the month.
Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association board member George Noyer owns retail shops at the mountain and in downtown Steamboat. He said his perception is that the number of tourists visiting Steamboat is down marginally this summer and that their spending habits are conservative.
"It's just conjecture, but I think we are dealing with slightly fewer tourists who are spending considerably less money," Noyer said. "I think it's a very conservative buyer. They are keeping their wallets close to their back pockets."
Sheraton Steamboat Resort General Manager Chuck Porter agreed with Noyer's perception. "That's exactly what is happening. I just hear continually, 'My sales are down,'" Porter said. "The best case is it's flat."
Porter has hard numbers that suggest the people visiting Steamboat this summer are spending less money once they get here -- his staff tracks how much revenue the hotel captures per occupied room. Those statistics indicate how much hotel guests spend on everything from restaurant meals in the hotel to in-room movies.
"In room sales, we were actually up a little bit, not a whole lot," Porter said. "But our capture (per occupied room) is down in all categories."
Porter's conclusion is that people are beginning to travel again, but they are spending less once they reach their destinations.
"They're saying, 'We're going to economize on our meals or economize on our activities,'" Porter said. "They may stop at Costco on the way out of town and cook out in the park once they get here."
Noyer said he went into the summer season with a strategy to pry sales out of conservative vacationers.
"At Gondola General, I made a conscious decision to buy products I could mark down the day I opened for summer," Noyer said.
Rather than rely on comparing Steamboat's sales to sales in Aspen and Vail, Porter's hotel subscribes to an industry report that compares his hotel's "revenue per available room index," to specific hotels similar to his own in mountain resorts in several states. He believes Aspen and Vail may have more losses to recoup than Steamboat, and their target demographic may be more immune to a slow economy than the typical Steamboat visitor.
Other hotels comparable to the Sheraton Steamboat Resort were down significantly in occupancy in June, with revenues also down, Porter said. The Sheraton Steamboat Resort outperformed the group in spite of its declining capture per occupied room.
Looking ahead to ski season, Porter sees room for optimism. He reported that the Sheraton's condos in the Morningside tower were "just about sold out for the holidays."
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