‘Bed tax’ revenue down about 20% in February, compared to amount collected in February 2020

Total funds so far down about $1.5 million, compared to same period of 2020 fiscal year

This is an aerial view of the Concession Golf Club in Sarasota, as shown on Visit Sarasota County’s Facebook page on Feb. 25. The PGA World Golf Championships were conducted there in late February. Image courtesy Visit Sarasota County via Facebook

Following a 17% drop in January, Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Tax — or, “bed tax” — revenue took an even bigger tumble month-over-month for February, the latest data from county Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates show.

The February collections added up to $2,992,554.66, which was $749,340.74 less than the February 2020 total — before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

That is a drop of approximately 20%.

Altogether, Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue is down $1,499,819.56, compared to the amount of money the Tax Collector’s Office received for the same period of the 2020 fiscal year, the latest data show.

The TDT revenue is generated by a 5% tax on accommodations rented for six months or less time.

This is the Tourist Development Tax revenue report for February. Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

Among other information in the most recent report, the Airbnb collections thus far for the 2021 fiscal year — which began on Oct. 1, 2020 — add up to $1,342,900.86. That compares to $914,157.35 through the same period of the previous fiscal year, as Ford-Coates’ staff noted at that time. The year-over-year increase is almost 47%.

Online platforms — including Airbnb, Vrbo.com and TripAdvisor — accounted for 22.76% of the TDT revenue for this fiscal year through February, Ford-Coates’ new report shows. In comparison, Siesta Key entities that collect the tax turned over 25.76% of the total for February, while those in the city of Sarasota were responsible for 23.35% of the funds.

Traditionally, Siesta Key and the city of Sarasota have vied in a figurative competition to see which could collect the most TDT revenue each year.

This is the Tourist Development Tax location report for February. Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

For the same period of the 2020 fiscal year, the online platforms accounted for 13.94% of the revenue, that Tax Collector’s Office report said.

The agreement the county has with Airbnb allows Ford-Coates’ staff to specify how much money Airbnb receives every month from its Sarasota County hosts. However, the agreements with the other online companies do not allow Ford-Coates’ staff to provide specifics.

The latest TDT report does have positive data about earlier months in the fiscal year. For example, the first report for the January collections showed those were down $524,145.41, compared to the total for January 2020. However, the new data put that month-over-month decline at $413,428.26.

Additionally, the new figures show the December 2020 total dropped by $294,971.92, month-over-month, instead of the earlier figure of $310,714.51.

Ford-Coates and her staff have explained that audits and other enforcement actions can lead to changes in the totals from month to month.

In her report on February, Visit Sarasota County President Virginia Haley prefaced her comments by noting, “It is important to remember that February 2020 was our best February ever.”

Then she wrote that the number of visitors in paid lodging for this February was 123,300, a decline of 15.3%.

Their direct expenditures added up to $153,470,500, a decline of 24%, Haley added.

Lodging occupancy was 75.9%, a decline of 17.2%, she continued, and the lodging room rate average was $206.18, a decline of 10.9%.

The number of room nights sold was 298,900, a drop of 19.1%, Haley pointed out.

The latest report from Downs & St. German Research of Tallahassee — which provides the data to Visit Sarasota County — shows that the number of visitors to the community since the start of the 2021 fiscal year has fallen 20.1%, compared to the same period of the 2020 fiscal year. Those tourists’ spending was down 22.9% for the same time frame.

From October 2019 through February 2020, visitors’ direct spending added up to $596,736,800. In comparison, from October 2020 through February of this year, the figure was $460,028,100, Downs & St. Germain noted.

However, the firm reported that property owners and general managers of accommodations “are more optimistic,” with 39% saying demand for rooms over the next three months is expected to be greater than it was for the same period in 2020.

In her update to County and City of Sarasota leaders, Haley wrote, “Our Sarasota County tourism recovery continues. Visit Sarasota County kicked off our marketing campaign with Southwest Airlines promoting the February 14 start of [its] fights into the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. Southwest has already expanded their flight schedule!” she added.

Further, Haley noted that Visit Sarasota County worked with the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau on all the arrangements for the PGA’s World Golf Championships at the Concession in Sarasota County, which was held at the end of February.

“We could not have asked for better weather for the tournament resulting in spectacular coverage of our area on national and international television,” Haley pointed out.