AUBURN — DeKalb County hotels bounced back quickly after last year’s COVID-19 pandemic slump, and reports say business continues to improve.
The county’s 5% innkeeper tax on room rates was collecting about $20,000 to $25,000 per month in the winter before the pandemic.
Tax collections dipped to under $7,000 in April 2020, as the pandemic took hold, then recovered somewhat to $12,000 in May 2020, according to the DeKalb County Auditor’s office.
Collections then returned to nearly normal levels in the low $20,000 range in June and July 2020, before peaking at $32,000 in August 2020 and $27,000 in September 2020.
September likely fell below usual numbers for that month, because Auburn’s major tourist attraction, the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival of classic cars on Labor Day weekend, was canceled last year.
The latest numbers show collections above $20,000 in January and February 2021 and $29,000 in March 2021.
Now, “Business is noticeably increasing, which is fantastic news!,” said Brian Brandon, general manager, the Tru by Hilton hotel, the newest of nine major-chain hotels on Auburn’s west side.
“Staffing continues to be an issue,” he said. “However, since the governor’s announcement regarding free money is ending as of 6/19, we have noticed many more applicants,” he said. Brandon referred to the end of enhanced unemployment benefits that were raised during the pandemic.
“We are excited about what the future holds for our hotel as well as our awesome community,” he said.
Brandon serves as a board member for the DeKalb County Visitors Bureau, which is funded by the innkeeper tax.
Last year undoubtedly, was difficult for everyone everywhere,” said Amber Caccamo, executive director of the Visitors Bureau. “We, ourselves, at the visitors bureau have been short-staffed and had to make budget cuts like many around us. The good news is, things are indeed looking up, and we are seeing many events planned and people ready to get back out and travel.”
Caccamo added, “The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum continues to be an international attraction and a bucket list item for many. I am projecting we will be at 77% of our projected budget by year end. Not great news, but not horrible news. We have been much more blessed than other counties around us, with our heavy manufacturing and steel industries keeping corporate travel afloat.”
DeKalb County’s innkeeper tax rate of 5% is the same in other northeast corner counties and the most common rate statewide —63 of Indiana’s 92 counties charge 5%. Allen County charges 8%, and Marion County, including Indianapolis, has a rate of 10%.