Online accommodations platforms vying with Siesta Key and City of Sarasota for largest portion of funds reported thus far this fiscal year
In January, Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Tax — or, “bed tax” — revenue took its biggest month-over-month dive since May 2020, the latest data from Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates’ office shows.
In January, the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue added up to $2,564,565.84, which was a decline of $524,145.41 — approximately 17% — from the figure collected in January 2020, before the pandemic began in Florida, Ford-Coates’ staff has reported.
Altogether, since the current fiscal year began on Oct. 1, 2020, TDT revenue is down $880,617.37, compared to the figure for the same period of the 2020 fiscal year, the latest reports show.
The only month-over-month increase thus far this fiscal year was reported in October 2020, the comparison report says.
Additionally, the latest data show that a growing percentage of TDT revenue is being generated by rentals of vacation homes through online platforms including Airbnb and Vrbo.com. Through January, those platforms accounted for 23.68% of the total: $1,618,933.80.
Generally, the entities that collect the tax in the city of Sarasota and those on Siesta Key “battle it out,” so to speak, in a figurative competition each fiscal year to determine which site can bring in the highest amount. The city has accounted for the largest share of TDT revenue the past two fiscal years, Tax Collector Ford-Coates’ staff has reported.
Through January, the collections generated on Siesta Key make up 24.82% of the revenue turned over to the Tax Collector’s Office. The city’s percentage was 23.22%, behind the online platforms’ total.
During a Feb. 11 presentation to the county’s Tourist Development Council, Sherri Smith, the chief deputy tax collector, pointed out that the online platforms’ share of the revenue had been climbing since the Tax Collector’s Office worked with the Office of the County Attorney to ink agreements with Airbnb and later HomeAway and TripAdvisor, and all their subsidiaries. From May 2017 through December 2020, Smith noted, the county received more than $5.83 million in revenue just from Airbnb.
Altogether, a graphic in the Tax Collector’s Office report on TDT for the 2020 fiscal year showed that the online platforms’ revenue totals jumped 59.12% over the past two years.
The 5% bed tax is collected on rentals of six months or less time.
Smith noted that Airbnb is the only one of those platforms that allows the Tax Collector’s Office to provide a monthly total.
Since the start of this fiscal year, Airbnb revenue has added up to $966,905.12, the latest report shows. That is an approximately 34% increase from the total of $719,111.26 collected between Oct. 1, 2019 and January 2020.
The new comparison report did have some positive news: The total revenue collected rose month-over-month from October 2020 through December 2020.
For example, the previous report for November 2020 showed total revenue down $119,822.19, compared to the figure for November 2019. The revised total for November 2020 reflects a drop of $98,566.13.
Ford-Coates and her staff routinely point out that figures can change from month-to-month because of audits and enforcement actions.
For another example: The month-over-month decrease for December 2020 collections noted in the latest report is $310,714.51. The previous report showed a month-over-month decline of $343,644.77.
In related news, research undertaken for Visit Sarasota County, the county’s tourism office, found that the number of visitors to the community thus far this fiscal year is down 21.9%, compared to the number for the same period in the 2020 fiscal year. Tourists’ spending has declined 22.2%, compared to the first four months of Fiscal Year 2020, the study undertaken by Downs & St. Germain Research in Tallahassee shows.
For January, the tourist total was down 26.8%, from 119,700 in January 2020 to 87,600 this year, the report says.
The occupancy rate for accommodations in January dropped 26.7%, compared to the figure for January 2020, and the revenue per available room declined 30.7%, month-over-month, Downs & St. German noted.
Further, in January 2020, the firm said, the average room rate was $187.51; for January of this year, it was $177.30, down 5.4%.
The number of room nights sold in January fell 30.2% from the count for January 2020, the report added — from 312,400 during that month last year to 217,900 for this January.
Moreover, the firm noted, “International travel continues to be affected by COVID-19 as international visitors represent only 1.4% of total visitors for FY 2021.”
Additionally, property owners and general managers of accommodations “are very pessimistic,” Downs & St. German reported, with 88% saying demand over the next three months will be lower than demand for the same period of 2020.