‘Bed tax’ revenue finally returns to positive territory

Overall, total for first five months of fiscal year down close to $176,000, compared to same period of FY18

People stroll past the Beach Club in Siesta Village in early February. Rachel Hackney photo

As Sarasota County Commission Chair Charles Hines put it in comments this week to his fellow members of the county’s Tourist Development Council, “That negative trend has stopped.”

He was referring to the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) reports for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, 2018.

After significant declines in the early months of the fiscal year, the revenue finally marked a month-over-month improvement for February, according to the latest data from the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office.

Hines noted that the February total was up 1.5%, compared to the figure for the same month in 2018. Overall, revenue from October 2018 through January was down almost 5%, he added. “We were struggling.”

The reason was red tide, Hines pointed out.

This chart shows the latest Tourist Development Tax revenue figures for the county. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office

For February, the latest TDT report shows county entities that collect the 5% “bed tax” brought in $2,933,316.54, an increase of $42,624.04, compared to the February 2018 total of $2,612,079.81.

Overall, however, the fiscal year income for the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue through February is down $177,520.95, compared to the figure for the same period of the 2018 fiscal year.

For several years, Sarasota County saw steady increases in its TDT revenue, but that changed, beginning in early August, as a result of the national media attention on red tide.

In a report prepared for the Tourist Development Council meeting this week, Visit Sarasota County noted that TDT collections were down 11.8% in October 2018, year-over-year, and 5.9% in November 2018. The number of visitors dropped. 20.7% in December 2018, compared to the figure for December 2017.

For the last quarter of the 2018 fiscal year, the Visit Sarasota County report says, the visitor number was down 8.1%. Direct visitor spending declined 8% for the same three months, the report notes, with December 2018 again showing the highest year-over-year fall: 19.2%.

This is the latest report showing the revenue collection totals by location. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office

The latest revised figures from the Tax Collector’s Office do show significant improvements, after audits and other enforcement measures, for the December 2018 and January figures. However, refinement of the totals also led to slightly higher year-over-year drops for October and November 2018, according to the latest report.

Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates has pointed out that her staff remains busy year-round, digging up new information and plugging in the results of audits as the latter are completed.

For example, when the Tax Collector’s Office issued its January report, the data showed that collections were down $138,912.86, compared to the figure for January 2018. The latest report, however, puts the decrease at only $17,497.62.

Likewise, the previous report showed the year-over-year drop for December 2018 was $5,070.05. The new report puts the figure at $1,382.41.

This is the information Visit Sarasota County provided for the Tourist Development Council’s meeting on April 17. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In her monthly report to local government leaders, Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, wrote in an April 16 email that research undertaken for her agency shows the number of visitors in February rose by 3.6% to 134,440, compared to the figure for February 2018.

Hotel room occupancy dropped by 1%, to 88.3%, and hotel room rates dropped by 4.1%, to $217.11, she added.

On the positive side: The number of room nights sold climbed 5.3%, to 330,940.

In other news that was more upbeat, Haley noted, “As you may recall, we moved up many of our promotions to this quarter to offset the impacts of the red tide crisis. This included major advertising promotions in key Midwest cities where we also have new direct air service from Allegiant Air into SRQ [Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport]. We married that advertising with a public relations campaign,” she continued. “Here is a sample of one of the newspaper articles that came from that campaign:

“Columbus Dispatch — Ticket to Write: Sarasota great landing spot for new direct flight to Florida”

(https://www.dispatch.com/entertainmentlife/20190407/ticket-to-write-sarasota-great-landing-spot-for-new-direct-flight-to-florida.)

She noted that the article had a print and online reach of 2,250,639 people.

“We also have a renewed focus on bringing more meetings to Sarasota County now that we have more full-service hotels with meeting space,” Haley wrote. “We have expanded our sales missions and trade show participation and public relations associated with meetings. In fact, our sales team produced $1 million in bookings in the month of February!!”

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