KEARNEY — How large of a dent did the July 9 flood and its aftermath make on Buffalo County tourism?
One gauge is lodging and occupation tax collections because the number of dollars collected each time someone uses a motel or hotel room is a reflection of how many people visited Kearney.
According to city of Kearney lodging tax records, collections of the 2-percent tax fell by about 37 percent, or about $24,000, in July. Buffalo County’s occupation tax is 4 percent, so collections of that tax fell by about $48,000.
The $72,000 setback may not seem like much, but it represents a loss of about $1.2 million in hotel and motel room rentals in July.
The setback also means the Kearney Visitors Bureau will have $72,000 less to promote lodging and hospitality businesses in Kearney and Buffalo County, where tourism accounts for more than 1,400 jobs and generates more than $86 million in direct travel spending and $7.2 million in state and local tax revenues from tourism expenditures.
Immediately following the July 9 flood, all but 600 of Kearney’s 1,800 hotel and motel rooms were out of commission. Most restaurants and other hospitality businesses were able to rebound and reopen quickly, but with fewer guests at Kearney’s hotels, businesses that depend upon visitors also took a hit.
“I’m sure it probably hurt us, but immediately after the flood our business was up because we had power,” said Ed Wiltgen, who operates the Spaghetti Shop at 810 S. Third Ave. and Taco John’s restaurants at 419 E. 25th St. and 105 W. 56th St.
Also taking a hit is the Kearney Visitors Bureau, which uses occupation tax and lodging tax revenues of about $1.2 million per year to promote tourism in Buffalo County. Sandhill cranes, state cross country, business conferences and bus tours all are lured to Kearney and Buffalo County using those revenues.
The $72,000 setback comes at a time when the visitors bureau will need every tool at its disposal to help the lodging and hospitality industry rebound from the flood.
“We’re making some budgeting adjustments, but we’re going to wait to see what happens,” said Visitors Bureau Executive Director Roger Jasnoch. He reported that 1,050 rooms now are in service at Kearney hotels and motels, but he’s worrying about the months ahead. October is Kearney’s best month for conventions, but Holiday Inn won’t reopen until November and the city’s other large convention headquarters, Ramada Inn, still is restoring ground-level rooms.
According to city of Kearney Finance Director Wendell Wessels, August 2019 lodging tax collections through Wednesday stood at an estimated $40,206. July 2018 collections were $64,193, meaning July 2019 collections lagged behind July 2018 by $23,987, or 37 percent.
According to prior year records, through July 2018, Buffalo County lodging tax collections totaled $522,545 year-to-date. That means collections for 2019 — $485,817 — are $36,728 behind 2018.