Travel and tourism is seeing significant growth in San Juan County, even as other sectors of the economy show little or no growth.
“There are a lot of opportunities if you have a unique and good quality product,” said Charlie DeLorme, the Economic Development Director for San Juan County.
Transient Room Tax (TRT) and restaurant taxes (TRCC) were up nine percent in 2015 and DeLorme expects another record-breaking year in 2016.
“Our combined room and restaurant collections in 2015 were $783,157,” said DeLorme. “I expect an 11 percent increase in 2016, in addition to the significant expansion of lodging properties.”
Approximately 100 new rooms were added to the inventory in San Juan County in the past year, including significant growth in short-term rental properties and 68 new two-room Hillside Suites at Goulding’s Lodge in Monument Valley.
The Goulding’s expansion is the most significant, with the new suites dotting the hillsides just north of the Goulding’s Grocery Store.
The project more than doubles the capacity at the Goulding’s complex, which is already the largest lodging property in San Juan County.
Each of the 68 suites can house up to six people and 26 of them have kitchenette facilities, which are ideal for visitors staying for several days.
“We are still getting a handful of the new hillside suites available,” said Ronnie Baird, the general manager at Gouldings. “However, 51 of units are complete and 51 are rented tonight,” said Baird on May 2.
In addition to growth in traditional lodging properties, there has been significant expansion in short-term vacation rentals in San Juan County.
“This has created a brand new market and has made San Juan County a center place for family reunion gatherings,” said Jerry Murdock, of Canyonlands Lodging.
“Each year, we are bringing 5,000 to 10,000 people to San Juan County,” added Murdock. “These are people who were going somewhere else before.”
The short-term vacation rentals include more than 20 properties around the county. Many of the properties can accommodate large groups and represent “pillows” for approximately 300 visitors.
There are roughly 150 “pillows” for rent each night in short-term vacation rentals in the Blanding area, 125 in the Monticello area, and 50 in the La Sal area.
The short-term vacation rental property owners are required to meet a number of business requirements, including collecting state and local taxes, securing commercial liability insurance, and meeting requirements for employees.
There has also been significant tourism infrastructure development in the Bluff area, including the expansion of the Desert Rose Inn in 2015.
The Desert Rose has completed an expansion of 16 luxury suites, in addition to a spa, swimming pool, and Dukes Bistro, an on-location restaurant.
Additional construction in Bluff includes new rooms at the La Posada Pintada motel and an expansion project which doubled the seating capacity at Twin Rocks Café.
A similar project in Blanding doubled the seating capacity at the Homestead Steakhouse in 2015. In addition, the Subway franchise in Blanding recently moved to a new location and Pop’s Burritos has opened.
There has also been significant growth in tourism properties in Monticello, highlighted by the opening of the Canyon Country Discovery Center north of town.
A multi-million dollar construction project, the Discovery Center includes interactive exhibits and educational opportunities in a project which combines tourism and education.
The Discovery Center is open Tuesday through Saturday and will host a number of events throughout the year.
Peggi Oki, an artist and member of the Skateboarding Hall of Fame, will be at the Discovery Center this Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m.
A grand opening celebration is scheduled on August 20.
There has also been a significant increase in the number of tour buses that are staying in Monticello.
“In the past, we’ve had 14 or 15 tour buses a year,” said Jared Harris, owner of Inn at the Canyons in Monticello. “However, this year we are hosting 140 tourist buses, a tenfold increase in just one year.”
“So far, the buses are awesome,” said Harris who added that the tourists on the buses are primarily European, Chinese, and Japanese visitors.
In general, DeLorme reports that 2016 started very strong. “In the first quarter of the year, TRT collections were up 47 percent. Our shoulder and winter seasons without a doubt have grown.”
DeLorme estimates that the tourism in San Juan County is roughly split 50-50 between individual travelers and bus tours. “In some areas, the tour buses represent almost 80 percent of the total business.”