With red tide gone, president of county tourism agency says visitor satisfaction with area returning to normal
As it turns out, the drop in Tourist Development Tax (TDT) — or “bed tax” — revenue from December 2017 to December 2018 was not as dramatic as initial figures indicated.
However, the latest data from the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office show collections in January were down $138,912.86 — about 6% — compared to the total for January 2018.
In its first report on the December 2018 data — in early February — the Tax Collector’s Office figures showed TDT revenue had dropped $32,894.01 from December 2017’s total. The new report revises the decrease to $5,070.05.
Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates has pointed out on numerous occasions that audits and other refinements of the monthly reports, which come in from entities that collect the bed tax countywide, can produce new numbers. A note at the bottom of each comparison chart her staff releases underscores those comments: “All figures are subject to change following audit and enforcement actions.”
Whereas the Tax Collector’s January 2018 report showed a total of $2,630,112.21 in TDT revenue for that month, the total for this January was $2,491,199.35.
The 5% bed tax is assessed on accommodations rented for six months or less.
Overall, through the first four months of the 2019 fiscal year — which began Oct. 1, 2018 — TDT revenue for the county is down $343,389.40, compared to the figure for the same period of the 2018 fiscal year.
For the first four months of the 2018 fiscal year, collections added up to $6,781,999.77. For the first four months of the 2019 fiscal year, the amount was $6,512,994.47, approximately a 4% decline.
One other point of comparison: Through the first quarter of the 2018 fiscal year, Airbnb hosts had contributed $355,695.61; for the first quarter of this fiscal year, the total is $459,038.13.
The Airbnb revenue is added into the amounts reported from other entities that collect the bed tax, Ford-Coates’ staff has explained.
As for the January TDT report reflecting collections by location, the city of Sarasota is in first place, with 31.47% of the total. Siesta Key is in second place, with 24.38%. Over the past several fiscal years, Siesta Key has proven in the end to be the location pulling in the most revenue.
In related news for January, Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, notified City and County of Sarasota leaders early this month that the number of visitors for January was down 2.4%, to 113,100, compared to the report for January 2018. However, Haley, pointed out, “[T]he good news is this is a huge improvement over last month. I believe it shows that the marketing adjustments we made and the red tide relief funding from Visit Florida is helping in the recovery effort.”
Visit Florida is the state tourism agency.
Haley and her staff have attributed the drop in visitors to Sarasota County this fiscal year to widespread print and TV news stories about the devastating effects of red tide on the west coast of Florida last summer and fall. Images of piles of dead fish illustrated many of those reports.
In its March 15 update on red tide, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said no red tide algae was observed in Southwest Florida “over the past week.”
In fact, the FWC news release noted, the algae, Karenia brevis, was not observed in Northwest Florida or along the east coast of the state, either.
“In another good sign now that red tide is completely gone from Sarasota County,” Haley pointed out in her March 5 email, “the January visitor satisfaction [level] stood at 89% which is a return to ‘normal’ compared to the low of 66% satisfaction during the red tide outbreak.”
As for the lodging occupancy rate in January, Haley noted that it fell 4.5%, to 72.7%, and the lodging average daily rate fell 2.5%, to $179.38.
Nonetheless, she added, the number of room nights sold grew by 1.5%, to 301,660.
Sports tourism recruitment effort pays off
On another positive point, Haley wrote in her email that she had just returned to her desk “from the exciting press conference this morning,” during which World Baseball Softball Confederation President Riccardo Fracarri announced the selection of Sarasota and Bradenton as the host community for the U-18 Baseball World Cup 2021.
“The [Visit Sarasota County] sports team of Shelby Connett and Sarah Thomas have been working with their colleagues in Bradenton along with USA Baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Baltimore Orioles on making this a reality for the past 3 years,” Haley pointed out. “This event will bring the best of the best in young baseball talent from 12 countries to our area along with international media coverage. I should note that we hosted the USA Baseball officials in Sarasota during the 2017 World Rowing Championships,” she added. “[W]e impressed them with our community’s ability to host a top-level international competition. It should be noted that this [baseball] event has not be held in the United States since 1995!”