Brewster County Tourism Council met for a regular meeting May 20 at the Val Beard Complex in Alpine, and livestreamed via the county’s Facebook page.
The all-volunteer council acts as an advisory board to commissioners court regarding hotel and occupancy tax funds for the county, minus the City of Alpine which manages its own HOT funds.
The council discussed tax issues, park updates, and more, with opportunities for public comment.
Executive Director Robert Alvarez reported the pandemic brought increased visitation, which continues. The first quarter of the current fiscal year beginning October 2020 brought in just over $455,000 in HOT funds. The second quarter, including January, February and March 2021, brought in $419,678, a 16% increase over last year. Both numbers are expected to rise as late payments come in.
“It’s the most hotel tax income in this organization’s history,” noted Alvarez.
In a discussion on short-term rentals, Alvarez said he was looking into new ways to handle tax reporting issues, as well as investigating what regulations are available to the county. He noted it was a banner year for AirBnB at the national level as well as in Brewster County. The topic was tabled for further discussion.
Big Bend National Park Management Assistant David Elkowitz said the park was relaxing group size to a maximum of 12. The Hot Springs, Hot Springs Canyon Trail, and all of the upper Chisos Basin trails except Juniper Canyon were now reopened, along with Panther Junction Visitor Center.
Vaccinated individuals were no longer required to wear a mask, but unvaccinated individuals are. The Chisos Basin Lodge is working on opening its dining room to 50% capacity, pending staffing issues. Finally, road construction should wrap up in June.
Park visitation was up 22% for the year, and Elkowitz believed it would continue.
“We’re looking to break 500- or 600-thousand visitors by the end of the year,” he said.
A lengthy discussion of bylaw revisions ensued, including how to designate board members and how committees should function. Carol Peterson, board member and general manager of the Gage Hotel in Marathon, pushed for an additional board member appointment to be made on behalf of Marathon, and requested the bylaws indicate at least one appointment be given to someone representing the largest tax generator there. Counterpoints were made.
The Council requested clarification on how to handle conflict of interest reporting when it came to making votes that may affect a board member’s personal business interests. The board also considered meeting more frequently than its current four times per year. Revisions will be considered for vote at the next meeting.
The board discussed the need to regroup its strategic plan, and to include planning for staffed visitor centers, in both Terlingua and Marathon.
Marathon and Big Bend Chambers of Commerce, recipients of HOT funds, reported active social media engagement and an increase in requests for information about the area.
The next meeting was set for Monday, June 21, at 1 p.m. at the Val Beard Complex.