‘Bed tax’ revenue drop in June only about 12%

Visitors’ direct spending declined about a third, compared to total for June 2019, Visit Sarasota County reports

Entries in the big boat class chase victory during a Suncoast Powerboat Grand Prix. Typically held near the July Fourth holiday, the Grand Prix this year was scheduled for June, but it was cancelled as a result of the pandemic. Tourism leaders had expected even more summer visitors in June in Sarasota County than in previous years, when the 2020 event dates originally were announced. Image from the Grand Prix website

The total amount of Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax — “bed tax” — revenue collected in June showed a continued scramble back toward positive territory, so to speak, based on records compiled by Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates’ staff.

In June, collections added up to $1,618,396.51, compared to $1,831,825.59 in June 2019, the latest report shows. The month-over-month decline was approximately 12%, based on Sarasota News Leader calculations.

The Tourist Development Tax (TDT) is collected on accommodations rented for six months or less time.

Thus far this fiscal year — which will end on Sept. 30 — the bed tax collections have added up to $16,702,904.03, Ford-Coates staff has reported. That is a drop of $2,911,393.97, compared to the same period of the previous fiscal year.

For more than a decade, TDT revenue had broken a new record each year. At the end of the 2019 fiscal year, the money added up to $23,377,948.01. The 2016 fiscal year was the first for the total to top $20 million, the Tax Collector’s Office has noted.

However, the economic downturn — including a drop in tourism — resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic led county staff this spring to start revising TDT projections for the remainder of this fiscal year. For the County Commission’s July budget workshops, staff provided an estimate that the TDT revenue would drop 60% for June.

This is the latest Tourist Development Tax data. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

For May, staff had predicted a 70% fall; instead, the figure was about 54%, based on the initial report for that month. Although the percentage is approximately the same, as reflected in the latest data from Ford-Coates’ office, the month-over-month decrease improved a bit. Instead of the $858,381.35 drop noted in the previous report for that month, the new data show a decrease of $843,616.97.

Ford-Coates and her staff have explained that audits and other enforcement actions can lead to tweaks in the numbers in subsequent reports.

For another example, the data released last month showed a decline of $1,964,757.23 in revenue for April, compared to the amount collected in April 2019. The new report puts that decrease at $1,957,344.79.

The TDT funds are used for a variety of tourism-related initiatives — from beach maintenance and renourishment to upkeep at the stadiums where the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves hold Spring Training games to promotion of the county to visitors.

Another facet of the monthly report is the total TDT revenue brought in by Airbnb hosts. Through June, that is $1,229,239.93, the report says, an increase of about 24% from the previous report’s figure of $989,216.15.

Altogether, the latest data show that online platforms have accounted for $2,241,755.89 of total TDT revenue through June. Along with Airbnb, the Tax Collector’s Office has agreements with Vrbo/HomeAway and TripAdvisor, so those companies turn over collections to the county on behalf of their hosts. The June figure represents 13.42% of the TDT revenue collected thus far this fiscal year. That is up slightly from the May report, when the total reflected 12.49% of the TDT collections.

As for location reporting: Traditionally, Siesta Key entities that turn over TDT revenue to the Tax Collector’s Office have seen themselves in competition with those in the city of Sarasota. While Siesta Key has come out on top for most of the past fiscal years, the city of Sarasota “won” in the 2019 fiscal year. Through June, the city remains in the lead for this year, as well, with 28.12% of overall collections. Siesta Key accounts for 27.38% of the total.

This is the latest breakdown of the revenue by location. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

As for other June data: Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, the county’s tourism office, reported to community leaders that research undertaken on behalf of her staff showed the number of visitors in paid lodging in June was 69,400, down 30.1% from the figure in June 2019. Those visitors’ direct spending this June was $54,619,800, down 33.1%, from the number for June 2019.

The occupancy rate in accommodations in June was 51%, Haley continued, a decline of 20.1% from the figure for June 2019.

The average lodging room rate this June was $156.18, a decrease of only 0.6% from the June 2019 rate of $157.19, Haley noted.

Finally, in June, 160,400 rooms were sold, compared to 211,500 in June 2019. That marked a drop of 24.2%.