Transient chamber tax revenue ‘exploded’ in southwestern Utah last year
Tourism boomed in southwest Utah last year, and with it revenue from the transient room tax, which is money from temporary lodging for visitors. A bill in the Legislative Assembly will give some counties that are home to national parks more flexibility over how they use that money.
HB 323 amends the Transient Room Tax Act to address the surge in tourism revenue Washington County, and potentially other counties, collect in 2021. It passed the House unanimously last week .
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, who said the transient room tax has “exploded.” The bill does two things to increase flexibility in spending TRT revenue — it gives counties that meet certain requirements more time to spend excess revenue and allows up to 10% of the money to go destination development.
Washington County collected nearly $9 million in TRT revenue the year before the pandemic, according to Kevin Lewis, the county’s director of tourism. That number dropped in 2020, as did attendance at Zion National Park. In 2021, the tax brought in more than $15 million, a record.
“It’s obviously not a normal year,” he said. “We earned $6 million in transit room tax in one year. It’s probably not sustainable. So we don’t want to plan that, but we want a plan to use it effectively and make sure it’s used appropriately.
Current state law requires Washington County to spend half of TRT’s revenue from the previous year, Lewis said. The new bill would allow counties whose revenues are growing more than 150% year over year to save more. This provision is just between fiscal year 2019 to 2023.
Rep. Last said the changes will affect Washington County. However, he said the measure could apply to other counties as well, but they are waiting to see final figures for TRT’s revenue from last year.
The other change would allow counties that contain national parks to spend more money on destination development and visitor management.
“We were literally inundated with people in southern Utah, and what happened with our transitional resort tax was it exploded,” said Last, the bill’s sponsor. . “It just provides a bit of flexibility to help manage visitors coming to certain areas of the state.”
Lewis said Washington County hasn’t determined specific plans for the money, but he said they will benefit everyone.
“We’re really focused now on supporting the destination,” he said, “[and] ensuring that we have a strategy for the future to take care of the resources we have and to plan for the future and how they are used.