Spring Break Crowds Bring Business Success in March

Crowds walk down Main Street on Presidents Day, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022, in Breckenridge. Businesses in Summit County say a busy March kept them busy.
Tripp Fay/For the Summit Daily News

Preliminary numbers for spring break visitors showed that 2022 would mark a busy year for Summit County, with business owners confirming that March kept them busy.

Diane Burris, owner of Cool River Coffee House and Cafe in Breckenridge, said she saw a big improvement in the number of visitors who came in February and March compared to winter months like December and January. She said that the staffing was good for her business and that her united team could handle the largest crowds.

“March was great,” Burris said. “There was definitely one weekend, I think it was the second weekend in March, where we all thought, ‘Oh, what the hell happened?’ There were so many people.”

Earlier this year, county sales tax collections in 2021 were up approximately 23% compared to 2019 and 35% compared to 2020. In Breckenridge, sales tax collections were $7.2 million per above what was budgeted to date, according to reports from early March. However, much of that was estimated to come from the short-term rental industry.

Despite staffing concerns some businesses had a few months ago, managers and owners agreed they were excited to witness the bustle of Summit County again. Some said they were seeing crowds that were much the same as they would be before the pandemic, while others said 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 public health orders from the county, businesses called the crowds “heavy,” marking a trend that would extend into the spring.

Tourism professionals throughout Summit County expected this spring break period to be busy. As of mid-February, nights booked by visitors to Breckenridge are up 34% over 2021 and up 13% over 2019, with visits peaking the week of March 12-19. Spring break weekends consistently bring the most traffic of the winter season, according to data from the Colorado Department of Transportation.

All but one of the top 10 three-day winter weekends to travel were in March. Each of those weekends had a total of more than 135,000 people driving through the Eisenhower Tunnel over the holidays. The highest in history, from March 18 to 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 about having an active spring break and March break season.

“It was busy. It was sunny. I think we got the snow that we needed for people to enjoy the mountain,” Day said. “I think we’ve been pretty busy all season. There’s been a lot of people in town, and I think which is because there are more daily (ski) tickets being sold. There are also more short-term rentals.”

Day said spring brings special events like high school proms and weddings, which also keep her busy, as her business also offers formal wear for customers. Wedding professionals throughout Summit County are noticing a boom in nuptials-related business, with some planners having record years with larger, more elaborate ceremonies.

“There have been a lot of events,” Day said. “Not only weddings, but confirmations are starting again, communions and all the events in between. Now everyone is starting to be able to have their little family events. Then there are the conferences at Keystone in the conference center. Yeah, it’s just that he’s been a little busy in general.”

The flourishing 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 like affordable housing and child care. Due to HB22-1117, local governments can decide to use the money that comes from lodging taxes for things other than tourism marketing. Previously, all lodging tax went to marketing, but now 90% of lodging tax funds can be used outside of tourism marketing. There is currently no countywide lodging tax in Summit County, although cities may have individual taxes.

“If the tourism community and the industry need housing, because they need workers to be able to boost the tourism industry, that should also be a permissible use of the funds,” Governor Jared Polis said at a news conference. at Edwards on Thursday.

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