First three months this year saw 36% increase compared to two years ago

After surprise increases last year to visitation and spending in Grand County months into the pandemic, the growth remains unabated in 2021, according to sales tax figures reported through the end of March.

Overall sales tax revenues for Grand County more than doubled quarter-to-quarter since 2020 and increased more than 50% when compared to the first quarter of 2019.

The change represents fluctuations to sales tax revenues to the county, but it does not account for property taxes. It also does not represent the overall change in the size of the local economy because the county imposes special taxes on hotels and private campgrounds.

More representative of the growth to the local economy is the county tax that applies equally to all local sales, from groceries to lodging and everything in between.

When considering taxable sales equally in this way, the change from Q1 of 2019 to Q1 of 2021 was a 36% increase. The change since 2020, when most sales decreased as the pandemic took hold, was a 43% increase.

Grand County Commission Administrator Chris Baird briefed the county commission last week on the changes. He said later that part of growth in tax revenue could be explained by increased enforcement efforts to collect sales tax on all eligible local sales.

However, he estimated that most of the change had to do with increased economic activity in the county — that the increased visitation was having a real effect economically.

Since 2019, multiple hotels have reached completion in Moab, accommodating more visitors than in years past. From Q1 of 2019 to Q1 of 2021, Arches National Park saw a 38% increase in visitation.

Revenues from the county’s Transient Room Tax, which applies to overnight stays at local lodging businesses, increased 66% between the same periods.

The park visitation and room tax figures provide a rough estimate of the increases in tourism in Moab but do not account for contributions to the local economy by locals themselves.

Baird said that looking at sales tax figures in Decembers across different years, when local visitation tends to be lowest, suggests that roughly half of local spending every year is by locals.

Local lodging and restaurant businesses have provided anecdotal reports of increased wages, driven in part by a lack of available workers to hire. However, local wage data is not reported on the same, regular basis as local sales data, so the exact changes to local wages are harder to discern.