Hotel/motel tax revenue holds steady amid pandemic
by TRISH RUDDER & KATE SHUNNEY
Travel Berkeley Springs board members Stephanie Rebant and Jeanne Mozier told the Bath Town Council and Morgan County Commissioners earlier this month that tourism in Morgan County was on the verge of a record year before the virus restricted travel during the fourth quarter of FY 20, and only dipped slightly despite the pandemic.
“We were way ahead except for the final quarter,” Mozier said in the October 6 meeting.
Total hotel/motel tax revenue collected in the town and county in Fiscal Year 2020 (from July 1,2019 to June 30, 2020) came to $316,671, a decrease of $6,866 or 2% over the last fiscal year, which is an “astonishingly low decrease,” Mozier said.
Lodging businesses in the Town of Bath collected $70,862.18 in the extra tax paid by guests at hotels, motels, bed and breakfast and rental homes inside the town limits.
Lodging businesses in the county collected $245,809.72 in the extra tax paid by guests at hotels, motels, bed and breakfast and rental homes outside the town limits.
Half of that lodging tax goes to Travel Berkeley Springs to further promote tourism to the county. The other half of the tax is distributed to local organizations to support beautification, recreation and history-related events or efforts.
“The town’s hotel/motel tax is down almost $4,000, but it will be back,” Mozier said.
The Country Inn was one of the places in town that was hit the hardest, she said, by business and travel restrictions.
Stephanie Rebant said Travel Berkeley Springs has made many efforts to support tourism-related businesses through closures and restrictions, from issuing re-opening guidelines for shops to follow to giving out grants and dropping membership fees.
Ongoing advertising has also brought new visitors to Morgan County, Mozier said.
Business owners are hearing that their customers have come to Berkeley Springs for the first time.
“I never knew Berkeley Springs was here,” TBS was told. “People love coming here,” she said. “We know they’re going to be coming back and spending money.”
Mozier said based on state formulas for tourism spending, Morgan County can conservatively claim that tourism brings $71 million in visitor spending to the area, from lodging to meals to spas and shopping.
Mozier said advertising is good and renovations are good for Berkeley Springs, and she believes when the new section of the lodge opens at Cacapon State Park, it will bring more people to the area.
“All in all, we have a great report given what is happening in this country,” she said.
Other tourism impacts
In response to questions from county officials, TBS board members said Cacapon State Park’s lodge is expected to open in December after the construction of a new northern wing and renovation of the existing lodge rooms, plus the addition of eateries, a pool and spa facilities. The park is also planning to add 25 “glamping” sites and 20 RV camper sites, said Mozier.
Rebant said county officials should make it a priority to sort out how websites like Airbnb and others are collecting and sending in lodging taxes to the West Virginia tax office – dollars meant to land in Morgan County.
“It’s a huge amount of money you’re missing out on,” said Rebant.
Rebant also asked county officials to allow TBS to put up signs at county Parks & Recreation facilities saying that they are paid for in part by Hotel/Motel taxes. Commission President Joel Tuttle said he didn’t have a problem with that, but would run the idea past the Parks & Recreation board.
“We’re talking about tourism dollars paying for Parks & Rec facilities,” Mozier said.
Rebant also asked to meet with at least one commissioner to discuss the concerns from some tourism-related businesses about a proposed drug treatment center in downtown Berkeley Springs.
“We have legitimate concerns about the Green Street drug treatment center,” Rebant said. “You’re taking all of the challenges of the addict and putting them all in the business historic district. Business owners have to deal with those challenges.”
Commissioner Sean Forney said he would be glad to hear those issues. Forney sits on the Economic Development Authority board which has been crafting the deal to sell the former school to a Maryland group for a drug treatment center.