‘Bed tax’ drop in April about 88%, exceeding county financial management staff’s prediction

Only 7,200 visitors counted in that month

This is the latest report on Tourist Development Tax revenue in the county. Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

County leaders expected it would be bad, and the figures show just how bad it is.

For April, the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office reported that the total Tourist Development Tax — or “bed tax” — revenue collected was $257,489.34.

That was a drop of $1,976,579.33 from the figure collected in April 2019 — about 88% — based on information Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates and her staff released in their most recent Tourist Development Tax (TDT) report.

County staff showed the County Commission a chart last month projecting the drop would be only 75% for April, based on the sharp decline in travel prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. During that May 21 budget workshop, the revenue model the Office of Financial Management uses showed the projected TDT total at $17,407,000 by the Sept. 30 end of this fiscal year.

Through April, the TDT revenue total for the fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2019, added up to $14,195,283.40. That reflected a decline of $2,001,053.13, compared to the amount of money the county had collected through April 2019 during the previous fiscal year.

For the prior 10 years, TDT revenue set county records, Office of Financial Management (OFM) staff pointed out to the county’s Tourist Development Council earlier this year.

During the May 21 County Commission budget workshop, Kim Radtke, director of the OFM, noted that through the first half of the fiscal year, the TDT revenue total was $13,375,936, which was 29% higher than staff had predicted at that point — $10,300,456.

In January, before the pandemic struck, OFM staff had projected another record in TDT income for this fiscal year, with collections reaching $24.5 million.

This graph prepared by the county Office of Financial Management shows the history of Tourist Development Tax collections and includes a January prediction for the total this year, before the pandemic began. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Since the 2005 fiscal year, the last time the annual TDT collections fell year-over-year was in FY 2009, during the Great Recession.

In March, the TDT revenue dropped 48%, compared to the figure for March 2019, Ford-Coates’ staff reported at that time.

One positive note in the new data is that that March decline ended up being smaller, as reflected in the latest information. Instead of falling $2,032,034.68, the latest report says the amount was down by $1,675,123.94, or approximately 40%.

Ford-Coates and her staff have explained that audits and other enforcement action often lead to refinements of the monthly figures as a fiscal year goes on.

In fact, increases are shown in the new report for December 2019, as well as January and February, compared to those figures in the previous fiscal year.

For February, the new total is up $617,615.49, instead of $580,558.63 in the earlier report.

The new increase for December 2019, compared to the total for December 2018, is $217,559.63. The previous report put the December 2019 uptick at $196,482.54.

Among other data in the latest report, Ford-Coates and her staff noted that collections thus far this fiscal year from Airbnb added up to $914,157.35. That has not changed from the figure in the TDT report released for March.

As part of his safer-at-home steps to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, on March 27, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the cessation of short-term vacation rentals. Then, the week before Memorial Day, at DeSantis’ direction, state staff began authorizing counties to allow such rentals again, after the counties submitted plans detailing precautionary measures the businesses would take to try to prevent spread of the virus. Sarasota County received its notification just in time to allow short-term rentals as of May 22.

This is the latest data showing revenue collections by location. Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

As for location reporting: The city of Sarasota took the lead again from Siesta Key in April, accounting for 28.44% of the total TDT revenue collected through that month. Siesta was in second place, with 27.74% of the total.

For the first time in FY 2020, Siesta captured the lead in the March report. Typically, Siesta ends up leading all other locations by the end of the fiscal year. However, the city of Sarasota won that figurative competition in the 2019 fiscal year.

Online platforms accounted for 12.39% of the total TDT collections through April, the new data show, down slightly from the 12.8% mark they held through March.

The county’s agreement with Airbnb dates to April 2017. In April 2019, the Tax Collector’s Office worked with the Office of the County Attorney to execute agreements with HomeAway and TripAdvisor, as well, including those companies’ subsidiaries.

The 5% Tourist Development Tax is charged on rentals of accommodations for six months or less time.

In her report on April figures to community leaders, Virginia Haley, president of the county’s tourism office, Visit Sarasota County, wrote that the number of visitors in the county was down 94.6%, compared to the figure for April 2019. Altogether, Haley noted in an email, April tourists totaled 7,200.

The number of visitors to the state fell 10.7% in the first quarter of this calendar year, compared to the figure for the same period of 2019, the state tourism office, Visit Florida, announced early in June.

“Their spending dropped by 93.8% to $8,139,199,” Haley added of visitors to Sarasota in April.

Lodging occupancy dropped by 87.8%, to 9.2%, Haley continued.

“One bright spot,” she noted, “is that the average daily rate [ADR] drop [for rooms rented] was not as steep as the occupancy,” with that ADR falling 53% to $94.92.

Finally, she pointed out, the number of room nights sold fell by 92.2% in April, to 20,700.

This is the website banner of Visit Sarasota County as of June 10. Image courtesy Visit Sarasota County

Haley did take the opportunity in her update to plug Visit Sarasota County’s Savor Sarasota Restaurant Week period —June 1-14 — “with dozens of area restaurants featuring multi-course lunch and dinner menus for just $16 and $32 per person.”

She added that though “#SavorSarasota is not exactly the same Restaurant Week, we can still eat local and savor while social distancing. Be sure to check with participating restaurants about dining in or taking your savory meal to-go.”