Visit Sarasota County data show drops in hotel room sales and direct visitor spending for 2019 fiscal year, compared to 2018 fiscal year
Following another climb in November 2019, Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Tax — or “bed tax” — revenue is up $324,430.67, compared to the total for the first two months of the 2019 fiscal year.
In November 2019, the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office reported, the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue added up to $1,334,639.28. That was an increase of approximately 12% over the November 2018 figure of $1,191,812.91.
From August 2018 through the end of the 2018 calendar year, national publicity about the devastating effects of a red tide bloom kept visitors away from the county’s shoreline, as illustrated by the TDT figures for the affected months and comments from leaders of Visit Sarasota County, which is the county’s tourism agency.
The 5% “bed tax” is charged on accommodations rented for six months or less time.
Additionally, in the latest Tax Collector’s Office report, the total TDT revenue received for October 2019 is higher than originally documented. (October 2019 was the first month of the 2020 fiscal year.) Instead of climbing $170,513.10 above the October 2018 figure, the revised amount shows an uptick of $181,604.30.
Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates and her staff have explained that audits and other enforcement actions can lead to changes in the TDT numbers from month to month.
Another notation in the new report says the total amount of TDT revenue collected through Airbnb from its hosts’ rentals of accommodations in the county is $322,387.33 for October and November 2019.
Airbnb’s agreement with the county allows it to submit the money to the Tax Collector’s Office without identifying the people who rent properties through its online platform.
As for TDT collections by location for November 2019: The Tax Collector’s Office reported that the city of Sarasota was well in the lead of the proverbial annual race, taking in 36.41% of the total thus far this fiscal year. Siesta Key was in second place, with 22.44%.
Rentals through online platforms, such as Airbnb, accounted for 17.47% of the TDT money collected this year, the new report shows.
In response to a question about other online rental platforms, Sherri Smith, chief deputy Sarasota County tax collector, told The Sarasota News Leader the following in a Jan. 21 email: “[W]e do have collection agreements with the most prominent players, Airbnb, HomeAway, Trip Advisor, all their subsidiaries and any additional subsidiaries they may add in the future. With our agreement with HomeAway, their subsidiaries include VRBO and Vacations.com. Our agreement with Trip Advisor includes their subsidiaries Flip Key, House Trip, Niumba, and Vacationrentals.com.”
In an email to local government leaders, Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, provided the following information about county tourism in November 2019, based on research conducted for her office: “We saw slight growth in visitor numbers for November,” Haley wrote on Jan. 7. The total was 89,360, she continued, which marked a 0.9% increase from the figure for November 2018. “Their direct spending increased by +1.2% over November last year,” she added. The total for November 2019 was $81,953,400.
“Lodging occupancy in November  grew by +0.7%,” she continued, to 59.9%.
The average daily room rate for accommodations dropped 1.9%, to $165.73, Haley wrote.
The number of room nights sold in November 2019, compared to the number for November 2018, also was up slightly — by 0.7%, Haley added. The November 2019 total was 195,350.
A broader overview
In materials submitted to the county’s Tourist Development Council for a Jan. 16 meeting, Visit Sarasota County reported that the number of visitors who stayed in paid lodging fell 1.9% in the 2019 fiscal year, compared to the 2018 fiscal year. The biggest drop in the final quarter of the 2019 fiscal year came in July 2019 — 5.6% — the data show. In August 2019, the number was up 4.1%, compared to the figure for August 2018, according to the report.
The number of hotel room nights sold for the 2019 fiscal year also fell, though that decline was only 0.1%. The FY19 total was 2,839,530.
The first quarter of the 2019 fiscal year marked the period of the greatest decline for hotel room sales, compared to the 2018 fiscal year: 7.4%. The second quarter — January through March 2019, which is considered the peak of tourist season — saw an increase of 4.6%, compared to the same quarter of the 2018 fiscal year.
Direct visitor spending also declined in the 2019 fiscal year, compared to the 2018 fiscal year, Visit Sarasota County data showed. That figure was 1.2%. Again, the biggest decrease came in the first quarter of the 2019 fiscal year — October 2018 through December 2018, when visitors were worried about red tide. That drop was 7.5%, the Visit Sarasota County report said.