‘Bed tax’ revenue down close to 13% in November 2020

Number of visitors staying in paid lodging down 20.1%, county’s tourism office reports

Karen Fralich works on ‘The Butterfly Effect’ during the 2018 Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival. Photo contributed by Harriet Cuthbert

November 2020 was not a good month for tourism in Sarasota County, both the president of the county’s tourism office and the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office’s latest reports make clear.

Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, has announced that the number of visitors who stayed in paid lodging that month dropped 20.1%, to 71,400, based on research undertaken for her office.

The report on the county’s Tourist Development Tax — or, “bed tax” — collections for November 2020 shows the revenue was down $173,942.43, or about 12.85%, compared to the same month in 2019, Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates and her staff have announced.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous annual events have been cancelled since mid-March 2020. Among those was the Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival, which typically brings tens of thousands of visitors to the community each year in November.

Another big event, which usually occurred within the same general time frame as the Crystal Classic, also was cancelled in 2020: the Chalk Festival. Like the Crystal Classic, the — officially — Avenida de Colores brings in artists from other countries and draws thousands of tourists.

For the first two months of the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2020, the decline in Tourist Development Tax (TDT) collections is $127,863.81, compared to the amount of money taken in during October and November 2019, Ford-Coates staff has reported.

The November 2020 TDT collections added up to $1,179,318.04; in November 2019, the figure was $1,343,260.47, the Tax Collector’s Office report says.

This is one of the latest charts released by the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office. It shows funds collected during the first two months of this fiscal year, plus figures for the two previous fiscal years. Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

However, the latest information released by the Tax Collector’s Office does have one positive note: Instead of a month-over-month drop of $71,547.81 for October 2020, compared to the figure for October 2019 — as previously reported — the new data show that TDT revenue actually was up $46,078.62 in October 2020. Ford-Coates and her staff often have pointed out that audits and other enforcement actions can lead to revised figures in subsequent reports.

The TDT revenue is used for a wide variety of county purposes related to tourism. For examples, it pays for upkeep at the county beaches, local beach renourishment initiatives, grants to arts and cultural organizations that present programs designed to boost tourism, and upkeep at the Baltimore Orioles’ and Atlanta Braves’ Spring Training facilities in the county. The 5% tax is charged on rentals of accommodations for six months or less time.

Altogether, for the first two months of the 2021 fiscal year, TDT revenue added up to $2,417,719.27. For the same months in the 2020 fiscal year, the total was $2,520,540.39, Ford-Coates’ November 2019 report noted.

Thus far, for October and November 2020, revenue collected by Airbnb in Sarasota County totaled $397,892.81. That compares to $322,387.33 for the same months in the 2020 fiscal year, as Ford-Coates staff reported last year.

Online platforms accounted for 23.94% of the TDT revenue collected in October and November 2020, the latest data show. Along with Airbnb, the county gets reports from TripAdviser and Vrbo.com, among others, Ford-Coates staff has noted. However, none of the online platforms identifies individual hosts.

This chart shows how much Tourist Development Tax revenue was collected at various locations throughout the county. Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

Among other location data in the new Tax Collector’s Office report: Entities in the City of Sarasota accounted for 27.7% of the TDT revenue in October and November 2020, while Siesta Key entities were credited with 24.08% of the funds.

As for other Visit Sarasota County data for November 2020: President Haley noted that direct visitor spending that month fell 16.8%, to $68,184,700, compared to the figure for November 2019.

Lodging occupancy dropped 22.4%, to 46.8%, Haley continued, while the average daily room rate for lodging declined 3% in November 2020, to $160.76.

Finally, Haley wrote in an email to community leaders, the number of rooms sold dropped 24.5% in November 2020, compared to the figure for November 2019. The November 2020 total was 147,420, she pointed out.

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