New Braunfels tourism industry rebounds as local incomes rise

New Braunfels’ tourism and hospitality industries have shown signs of recovery in 2021 after coronavirus-related restrictions and closures in 2020 resulted in lower hotel occupancy tax revenues and river-related funding .

Local businesses and entertainment businesses have reported a successful and busy tourist season, as evidenced by rising income and visitor numbers, although staff shortages and rising product costs have created tensions in the region. all industries.

The annual river tubing season, which runs from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, is the backbone of the local tourism industry, said Amy Niles, head of river operations at the city.

During the season, a river management fee of $ 2 is billed to each visitor through the city and independent tube outfitters, Niles said.

In 2021, the river’s revenue rebounded to $ 482,864 as the river remained open for the entire season and the Niles team saw an influx of new visitors. In 2019, a total of $ 497,492 was raised, and that total dropped to $ 183,858 in 2020.

Fees were only charged for five weekends from May 23 to June 21, 2020, instead of a normal summer of 15 weekends. The season was cut short on June 26, 2020, when Governor Greg Abbott banned outfitters from operating shuttles and renting tubes. “The 2020 season has been exceptionally busy when we were open,” Niles said. “A successful river season will translate into a successful tourism season for the community as a whole. “

Back to normal

In 2021, crowds also returned to the Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort in New Braunfels, and the park exceeded attendance and revenue targets for 2021, said Aaron Martinez, director of communications and digital marketing at Schlitterbahn.

“We have seen pent-up demand from people to get out of the house and have fun with their families again,” Martinez said. “We had a reservation system in place for most of the year.” The reservation system determined how many people would be at the park each day, which helped staff plan how and where to place employees, Martinez said.

Independent tubing purveyors such as Rockin R River Rides have also reported increased revenue this year as residents and visitors eager to return to the river, said Shane Wolf, owner of Rockin R.

“For all industries and markets it was better to say the least this year,” Wolf said. “Rockin R had a little edge last year just because we have a property on the Guadalupe, so we’ve always been able to give individuals access to the river, but by all means. [revenue] was in single digit percentages of what we expected to have done.

In 2021, 78.62% of the river maintenance fee revenue collected by the city came from independent providers, Niles said, while the remaining 21.38% was collected directly by the city.

Previously, 76.68% of customers accessed the river through outfitters in 2020. Niles said an influx of new visitors to the river and the temporary closure of some parking lots this summer helped change.

For Beverli Mahnke, property manager at Old Mill Resort in Gruene, this summer attracted more bookings as tourists returned to the area and weddings were scheduled at the 21-acre site. “We were full almost every weekend, and even our midweek bookings were definitely up,” Mahnke said. “I think people were just ready to go out, and Gruene is a great place to come [visit]. “

Increasing income

Hotel occupancy tax revenue also skyrocketed in fiscal year 2020-2021 after raising $ 4.41 million, beating fiscal year 2019-20 collections by 54.7% and those of the 2018-19 fiscal year by 10.8%, according to city documents.

Hotel taxes are paid by guests who stay at a hotel or other short-term accommodation option, according to the Texas Comptroller’s Office. According to Jared Werner, deputy city manager of New Braunfels, hotel tax revenues are only one indicator of the strength of the local tourism and hospitality industries.

“New Braunfels is also a very popular day trip destination, which is why we certainly understand that it is not exhaustive,” said Werner. “But it certainly shows how determined people are to spend several days in this community for their business or leisure trips.”

According to Werner, one of the main factors contributing to the increase in income is the city’s effort to enforce tax payments on short-term rental properties.

Compared to fiscal year 2018-19, fiscal year 2020-21 hotel tax revenue from short-term rentals increased 62.34%, Werner said, and revenue accounted for 28% of total fund funds. hotel tax collected during the year. “We had introduced a new software system for identifying short-term rental properties and a new occupancy tax payment portal,” said Werner. “Anyone who was operating without our knowledge was identified and educated on what is required from a local occupancy tax remission standpoint. “

Werner said the final hotel tax revenue for the 2020-21 fiscal year will be the largest annual occupancy tax collection ever received by the city.

Sales tax revenue has also increased in New Braunfels, with the city collecting 32.1% more revenue in July 2021 than in the same month last year, according to a report from the city.

Werner said the industries most affected by pandemic-related shutdowns recorded the largest gains in sales tax returns between March and August 2021 compared to 2020.

During that time, full-service restaurants saw their tax returns increase by more than 50%, and department stores saw an increase of 30%, he said. “If we look at the general service category, which includes tourism, frontline service related industries, since March they’re growing at a rate of around 60%,” Werner said. “Seeing these big gains year over year, especially when you break down that data and look at a specific industry, has been surprising. “

Bring back visitors

In the summer of 2020, New Braunfels City Council allocated approximately $ 292,450 in federal funding to the Chamber of Commerce to create a marketing and advertising campaign. Mallory Hines, vice president of the convention and visitors bureau, said the advertising initiatives launched with the funding had helped attract visitors to the city.

“Before having that [funding], we had to cut back on our promotional efforts, ”Hines said. “It allowed us to enter new digital frontiers a bit. … I think it’s really important to reach people on the mediums they use today.

Marketing efforts focused on TV advertising, social media partnerships, and retargeting strategies that created local ads to track users. In addition to promoting the city’s summer attractions and local businesses, the marketing efforts also included local festivals and events that regularly attract visitors. Wurstfest is one such festival that draws visitors from across the country, according to the Wurstfest Association.

After the cancellation of the 2020 celebration, the 2021 festival was highly anticipated as it was the 60th Wurstfest and the first to use a new Marktplatz building, said Dan Tharp, chairman of the Wurstfest marketing committee. “It has become more special this year than it could have been if we could have had a festival last year just because of all that we have experienced together as a community,” he said. -he declares.

Staffing issues persist

Even as visitors returned to the city and revenues increased, businesses in the area struggled to find enough employees to meet the demands of a busy tourist season.

“I haven’t spoken to a single outfitter this summer who hasn’t expressed concern about the understaffing,” Niles said. “In some ways we were all in the same boat, but it was definitely a challenge. “

At Schlitterbahn, understaffing has caused the park to cut its hours of operation, Martinez said. Instead of opening from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., the park opened from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and sometimes extended its opening hours to 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

“We have by no means been exempt from the staffing issues that are prevalent in our industry in the service sector in general,” Martinez said. “If we didn’t have the number of lifeguards needed, that meant that some attractions might or might not open up maintenance staff.

Although the summer has been profitable, Wolf and Mahnke hope to be able to operate with a full staff in 2022 to welcome visitors to New Braunfels. “I just couldn’t do it without [the staff]”Said Mahnke.” I’m so glad we did so well this summer.… We all had to participate.

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