The 416 Fire had “the best of the worst” impact on Durango’s economy, said Business Improvement District Executive Director Tim Walsworth, with sales tax down 3.2 percent and lodging tax down 13.1 percent in July compared with the same moth last year.
The numbers shed more light on how the 416 Fire impacted Durango from a financial standpoint, showing that the city lost revenue during a peak tourism season as a result of one of Colorado’s biggest fires burning about 10 miles north of the city.
“We’re never happy when we see red numbers, but I’m just glad it wasn’t more,” Walsworth said.
The city collected $2,133,429 in sales tax and $142,785 in lodgers tax for the month of July.
Sales tax numbers for June, released in July, showed the city’s sales tax down 5.6 percent and lodgers tax down 13.2 percent from the same month in 2017. While these numbers reflect a downturn in economics while the fire raged, Frank Lockwood, executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office, said a busy early season offset the losses experienced during the 416 Fire.
And social media helped keep people abreast what was happening in Durango, whether it was letting people know the fire was still burning or that it had settled down and Durango was open for business. It was the ubiquitous nature of social media that helped Durango businesses get the message out that they were open, he said.
“Things bounced back really quickly,” Lockwood said.
That speedy recovery is in part a result of $30,000 the BID spent on marketing Durango while the fire burned. Capitalizing on partnerships with local businesses, Walsworth said that money was used on social media campaigns that targeted areas where people often visit, including Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and the Western Slope.
One-third of that BID funding went to the Durango Area Tourism Office, funding that “upped our game in all social media stuff,” Lockwood said.
But for Sharon Taylor, owner of Tippy Canoe downtown, this past year’s light snowfall, coupled with the 416 Fire, doubled the hurt for her business.
“There (were) no people,” Taylor said of June and July. “They weren’t spending.”
While not many people from outside the state visited Durango this summer, locals helped support downtown businesses by shopping local, Taylor said.
Walsworth said downtown ambassadors for BID noticed that people from within an hour’s drive of Durango came with the intent to support local businesses – much like the business Durango residents gave Silverton while the fire closed the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which normally delivers hundreds of tourists to the isolated mountain town each day.
In a report about how fires impacted the region, Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado found the largest economic impact was on lost tourism revenue. No buildings were burned in the 416 Fire.
“Evidence from previous fires suggest the losses to the economy will be short-lived and relatively small,” Fort Lewis College professor Robert J. Sonora wrote in a report.
The tactics used to combat the negative economic impacts in the age of social media are helpful to prepare for the next potential disaster, Walsworth said.
“Here was something new, and there wasn’t a manual on my shelf saying ‘Here’s what BID should do if the biggest amenity is shut down for 40 days,’” Walsworth said. “Now, we have the beginnings of one. Even better, we ended up with some really great partnerships.”