Shutdown? Fire? Mono visitors didn’t care; tax revenue best in seven years

By all outward appearances, it should have been a crummy fall season last year for Mono County’s tourism economy.

It wasn’t.

In spite of the two-weeks-long Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park in September and the 16-day federal government shutdown in October, Mono County turned in its best autumn tourism performance in seven years, according to tax figures given to the Mono County Tourism/Film Commission.

“It’s amazing, considering we had the Rim Fire and the shutdown,” said Alicia Vennos, director of Mono County Tourism.

The performance index was in the form of transient occupancy taxes (TOT) for the second quarter of the 2013-14 fiscal year, which began on Sept. 1, 2013, and ended on Dec. 31.

The startling numbers showed a 5.9 percent jump from the same period in 2012, and surpassed Mono County’s best fall season, in the 2007-2008 pre-recession season.

“I think the fall-color promotion we did with Mammoth Lakes Tourism helped drive traffic here, and a lot of (lodging) people were online with as well.”

John Urdi, director of Mammoth Lakes Tourism, said he also was surprised by the showing by the county, but that there might be reasons that are as plain as day.

“During the shutdown, people who were going to Death Valley and Yosemite might have planned for one night in Mono County, but stayed five because of the shutdown.

“The government shutdown may have actually helped our county.”

As for the effects of the Rim Fire, Urdi said once people got used to the idea that smoke from the epic blaze largely did not affect Southern Mono County of Yosemite Valley, people showed up.

Vennos, in a follow-up email following an initial interview, said there was even more to consider, although coming up with definitive reasons for the increase is hard to pinpoint.

“While we don’t have quantifiable data for the reasons the quarter was so positive, I suspect partial reasons include:

• The strong marketing push we’ve been making over that last few years for Fall Colors and fall fishing/hiking—an ongoing team effort with Mammoth Lakes Tourism and the Bishop Chamber of Commerce, as well as many individual businesses and tourism-related organizations in the region.

• The government shutdown meant that most campgrounds throughout the county were closed suddenly, and campers turned to hotels, motels, cabins and condos for lodging.

• The increased number of lodging properties throughout the county that are subscribing to booking engines (particularly, which is creating increased visibility and marketing reach for these businesses and allowing them to fill gaps in occupancy throughout the year. "

The measurement, taken from reported transient occupancy tax revenue, showed Mono County with TOT receipts of $342,383, Vennos said.

The TOT revenue was based in a total $2.9 million in total revenue, up from the same quarter the previous year (2012), when the county showed $323,206 in TOT revenue.

The county’s performance last fall was the best showing since it brought in $338,379 in 2007-2008, Vennos said.