Monroe County innkeeper’s tax revenue booming, due in part to ‘revenge travel’

Based on recent monthly numbers for innkeeper’s tax revenue, Monroe County’s tourism industry is back on track after getting hit hard by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, the revenues from the county’s 5-percent innkeeper’s tax were reported by Mike Campbell at a meeting of the convention and visitors commission. Campbell chairs the five-member group.  The tax is paid by guests at lodging establishments, including short-term rentals  like Airbnb and Vrbo.

The monthly figures from the September, October and November reports achieved all-time highs for those months, based on data going back to 1999. Numbers reported for a given month reflect business done in the previous month.

The improvement in the numbers towards the end of 2021 has changed the financial situation for this commission, Campbell said. The financial picture is now “far better than we had thought it would be when we were meeting in September,” Campbell added.

The 2020 general fund carryover balance for the CVC was $957,831—an all-time low, Campbell said. But as of October 2021, the general fund balance has recovered to $1,352,693, Campbell said.

Campbell serves on the CVC as associate director of Indiana Memorial Union.

Some of the rebound in hotel business is due to what Visit Bloomington executive director Mike McAfee called “revenge travel.” That’s the tourism industry buzzword to describe the pent-up leisure demand for travel that is driving a lot of business. “People are taking revenge on COVID—and taking their trips no matter what,” McAfee said.

Downtown Bloomington, Inc. executive director Talisha Coppock reported at Friday’s CVC meeting that the number of convention center events for 2021 has been down from the pre-pandemic normal level of 500 or so, to just 402 events this year. And each event the number of people was smaller, Coppock said.

But 10 conferences are booked for 2022 that will host around 200 people, Coppock said.

At Friday’s meeting, McAfee highlighted some of the upcoming events that will bring visitors to Bloomington.

McAfee is looking as far ahead as 2024, when the narrow band of the full solar eclipse will pass right over Bloomington. “We’re already working on a community plan for the 2024 eclipse—that’s going to be a big deal in his community,” McAfee said.

On a closer horizon are three events that Visit Bloomington is promoting: Freeze Fest  in January; the Bloomington Music Expo in February; and the Quilt Show in March.

Also in March 2022, the Indiana Middle School Basketball Championships a will be back in town. McAfee said the group wants to sign a 10-year deal with Bloomington. Given that the basketball tournament takes place during the university’s spring break, it’s a great time to have that extra business in town, MacAfee said.

McAfee pointed to the preliminary competition for the Division I NCAA  track and field championships in May 2022 as another event that will bring people to town.

The USA Water Polo  competition that took place in early November will be reprised in 2023, 2025 and 2027—the group has already re-upped for those years.

To give some perspective to the innkeeper’s tax revenues for the most recent three months of reporting, for the whole year in 2020, innkeeper’s tax revenue was about $1.6 million.

Through November this year, the total is already about $2.4 million.

Even with the depressed numbers at the start of 2021, that’s still about on pace with the three most recent pre-pandemic years: 2017 ($2.48 million);  2018 ($2.48); and 2019 ($2.51 million).