Aspen economy back on the fast track: reports

Occupancy at record level and economic activity “has returned to or exceeded 'normal' levels”

Staff reports
People walk through the vendors during the first Aspen Saturday Market of the summer on Saturday, June 12, 2021, in downtown Aspen. Animals were not part of the attraction last summer amid the pandemic, but with restrictions having loosened this year's market is seemingly back to normal. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)

Two reports issued since Friday show what has become fairly evident — Aspen’s economy not only is on the mend, it also is on the upswing.

Through June 30, lodge bookings in Aspen stood at 83.1% paid occupancy in July, according to a reservations update released Monday by central bookings reservation firm Stay Aspen Snowmass. That is a record-breaking pace, the report said, while noting Snowmass Village has a paid occupancy rate of 67.1% in July. Combined, the two resort towns are trekking at 77.1% occupancy this month.

“July continues to pace as our busiest summer month,” said the report.

The city of Aspen Finance Department, meanwhile, reported Friday that retailers generated $40.4 million in overall sales in May, which was 81.9% better than May 2020, and 46% ahead of the pandemic-less May 2019.

“Overall economic activity has returned to or exceeded ‘normal’ levels in most industries as we continue to progress into and through the summer season,” noted city senior tax auditor Anthony Lewin in the report.

Aspen’s retail economy through May produced 16.2% more sales than the first five months of 2020, and fell 2% behind the same period in 2019, according to the report.

Through May, Aspen retailers accumulated $327.8 million in sales, with accommodations accounting for $72.4 million, or 22.1%, of that sum. With $43.7 million during that same time period, restaurants and bars’ sales comprised 13.1% of the city’s overall retail activity.

Even so, the lodging industry was down 12.6% from January through May compared with the first five months of 2020, and restaurants and bars were off by 4%. Public health restrictions also shut down indoor dining in January and limited business in February also.

“Despite the strong return in visitation in March through May, occupancy was cut nearly in half in the first two months of the year and created a sizable drop in tax remittance for the year that is slowly being remedied over time,” the report said.

As for June, there was no Food & Wine Classic (it will be held in September), yet Aspen lodges had a 64.8% occupancy rate, which was 3.8% ahead of June 2019, according to the SAS report. The report didn’t mention June 2020 because of the pandemic. Snowmass had a 47.9% occupancy level in May, which was 1.9% below May 2019.

The report forecast this summer will be as busy as ever.

“You don’t need this report to tell you we are seeing a surge in summer business. Summer occupancy is currently at 47.6% vs. just 15.1% at this same time last year. In comparison to June 30, 2019, summer occupancy on the books was at 39.4%, so a seismic 20% higher than 2019. As predicted, we are on track to break records this summer.”