After a dismal 2020 for hotel stays, bookings this summer are poised to be the best Idaho Falls hotels have ever seen.
The COVID-19 pandemic kept many people cooped up in 2020, unable to travel due to personal safety concerns or business closures and capacity restrictions. Following the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and lower transmission rates, Eastern Idaho tourism in 2021 has boomed, surpassing upward trends set in 2019.
According to county lodging tax collection data provided by the Idaho Commerce Department, Bonneville, Clark, Fremont, Madison, Jefferson and Teton counties, or region six, collected more than $30 million from July 2020 to June 2021 ($147 million total) than July 2018 to June 2019 ($111 million total). The region collected about $107 million from July 2019 to June 2020.
While tax collection has increased in part due to higher room rental costs, overall hotel occupancy has remained consistent when comparing the months from April to June in 2019 to the same months in 2021. In the greater Idaho Falls area, lodging occupancy rates in 2021 were tracked at 54%, 61% and 82% in April, May and June. That compares previously to pre-pandemic numbers in 2019, when the rates were 59%, 73% and 81% in April, May and June.
This tells hotel managers that occupancy is returning to the levels that they expect, said Larry Wolf, director of hotel operations at B & T Hospitality Management. The group owns three Hilton properties in Idaho Falls.
Wolf said he expects occupancy to be just as good or better in the latter part of summer and fall of 2021 than it was in 2019.
“June and July have been kind of flat occupancy-wise,” Wolf said. “(Prices) on the other hand has been very strong. Pretty much most areas are pushing (room prices) because the demand is here.”
That is a consensus felt by many people traveling across U.S., the price of a hotel room spiked to an all-time high in July, USA Today reported.
Much of the hotel success in region six comes as a result of Yellowstone National Park. The park announced in a July news release that June was its most-visited June on record, exceeding more than 1.5 million visits and 200,000 more visits than June 2019.
Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce CEO Chip Schwarze said the hotels in Idaho Falls have informed him that this is the best summer they’ve ever had. One hotel reported to him that average occupancy at the property was at about 74% in 2019. This July, that hotel is averaging 97% occupancy.
“June to July have been out of this world for them,” he said. “It’s a good year to have after last year.”
According to the state commerce department, the revenue per available room for hotels in Idaho Falls has jumped from $93 in June 2019 to $104 in June 2021, and the average daily rate has seen an 11% increase in those months.
Schwarze added that Idaho Falls is seeing different trends with tourism. There hasn’t been much interest in tour buses and there is hardly any international travel because of COVID-restrictions. Most travelers have been people rolling through from regional road trips, he said.
“It’s almost all domestic travelers,” he said. “It may be setting a new trend.”
While hotels had a rough year in 2020, campgrounds and Airbnb’s closer to Yellowstone had the best year they ever had because people wanted to travel in less populated areas, Schwarze said.
Fremont and Teton counties saw the largest increases in lodging tax collection from 2019 to 2021 as both counties nearly doubled the total amount of money collected. Fremont County rose from $27 million to $50 million and Teton County rose from $18 million to $34 million.