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Return of Sundance bumps up season lodging totals and taxes

Some ticket packages to the 2023 Sundance Film Festival go on sale Oct. 17.
Sundance Institute
The return of an in-person festival brought throngs of visitors.

As has been the case all season, the number of winter visitors coming to Park City is dipping, while room prices continue to increase.

Through the end of February, the Park City Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau reports average rental room occupancy this season at 67%. According to Chamber CEO Jennifer Wesselhoff, that’s down 6% compared to this time last year, but prices for local accommodations have skyrocketed by 17%.

Wesselhoff predicts a similar scenario for March, the last full month of the season.

“When we look at March reservations on the books, our occupancy right now is at about 58%, which is down 8% compared to March last year,” Wesselhoff said. “And also, rates are up again 9%. So overall, we're looking at maybe a lesser volume of overnight visitors who are spending more and also contributing to our tax coffers.”

Summit County is also seeing a boost to tax coffers from January of this year – likely due to the first in-person screenings at Sundance since 2020.

“Our local tax collections for performance in January was up 7%,” Wesselhof said. “Transient room tax is up 24% for January. So, I want to say a big shout out and thank you to Sundance who helps really drive those tax collections for us. Same with restaurant tax collections. Restaurant tax collections for January are up 25% and then restaurant arts and parks (RAP) tax up 13%. So while we may be seeing a little lower volume of visitation overnight, we are actually seeing a higher spend, which is a really strong, strategic tactic of our sustainable tourism plan.”

January was the first month that the transient room tax, or TRT, has been up this season. TRT was down 24% in November and down 6% in December. With January’s increase, TRT funds she says are now up 3% compared to the same time last season.

While snowfall is Park City’s best marketing asset, Wesselhoff says it’s difficult to predict tourism through the rest of the season given how short the booking window has become over the years.

“I've been told that when it snows the phone starts ringing,” she said. “And you know, when we see snow, we see visits to our website also increase. But it's just this, this booking window has shortened. It's so small right now where it's really hard to predict a month out where you're going to finish the year. And I think that's one of the reasons why our properties and our hoteliers are really pushing rate. And then of course lowering that rate as they get closer in month trying to book those rooms.”

Looking out to the end of the season, which closes April 23, Wesselhoff says it looks like Park City will finish the year very strong – thanks to some busy spring break weeks still to come.