‘Bed tax’ revenue for April more than 12 times the figure for April 2020, when much of state was shut down because of pandemic

Total collections up $3.7 million through first seven months of this fiscal year

The Roy Lichtenstein: Monet’s Garden Goes Pop! show at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota was among draws for tourists in April. It brings ‘the complete Pop Art treatment to Monet’s French Garden of Giverny,’ Selby Gardens notes. ‘This innovative, internationally recognized exhibit continues through June 27,’ the Gardens adds. Image courtesy Selby Gardens

Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Tax — or, “bed tax” — revenue for the first seven months of this fiscal year is up $3,713,864.91, compared to the same period of the 2020 fiscal year, when most businesses were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That is part of the latest report from Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates and her staff.

Further, the April collections are up $3,187,687, compared to the amount turned over to Ford-Coates’ office in April 2020. The data for April 2020 put the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue total at $280,964.50. Most local government amenities — including county-operated beaches — as well as arts and cultural venues, were closed that month in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This April, the revenue added up to $3,468,651.77, Ford-Coates’ staff noted, which is more than 12 times higher than the April 2020 figure.

From the Oct. 1, 2020 beginning of this fiscal year through April, the latest report says, total TDT revenue adds up to $18,131,243.11. That compares to $14,195,283.40 for the same portion of the 2020 fiscal year, an increase of about 28%.

Additionally, TDT revenue that Airbnb has turned over to the Tax Collector’s Office through April from its hosts in the county totals $2,322,695.67, Ford-Coates’ staff noted. Through April 2020, the figure was $914,157.35.

This is the April comparison report for the Tourist Development
Tax revenue. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

The 5% tax is charged on accommodations rented for six months or less time. The revenue pays for a wide variety of tourism-related initiatives — from beach maintenance to upkeep of Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota and the CoolToday Park in North Port, the respective Spring Training homes of the Baltimore Orioles and the Atlanta Braves.

For another point in the latest data from Ford-Coates’ staff: Through April, the bed tax revenue collected by hosts of accommodations rented through online platforms represented 20.55% of the money turned over to the Tax Collector’s Office thus far this fiscal year. In April 2020, the online platforms’ collections represented 12.39% of the total.

Along with Airbnb, the Office of the County Attorney and Ford-Coates’ staff worked to ink agreements with TripAdvisor and Vrbo.com, including those companies’ subsidiaries. The Airbnb contract came first. The companies are allowed to keep confidential the names of their hosts.

Further, in the figurative competition between Siesta Key and the city of Sarasota in regard to annual TDT collections, Siesta Key remained in the lead in April, with 26.71% of the money. That compares to 24.88% for the city.

This is the April location report for the TDT collections. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

Additionally, because of audits and other enforcement actions, month-over-month deficits recorded earlier this fiscal year have continued to fall, the latest reports show.

For example, the new data put collections in January at a figure $351,241.61 lower than they were in January 2020, before the pandemic’s first cases were announced in Florida.

The previous report from Ford-Coates’ staff showed a month-over-month drop for January of $393,381.62.

For another example: The previous report said the month-over-month decrease for February was $700,149.82. The new report adjusts that deficit to $671,093.43.

Ford-Coates and Chief Deputy Tax Collector Sherri Smith both have talked about the hours their TDT team members put into checking advertisements, responding to residents’ tips and other investigatory measures, as they seek to determine whether hosts of accommodations are turning over bed tax funds to the Tax Collector’s Office.

In fact, during recent discussions about “hotel houses” on Siesta Key, leaders of the nonprofit Siesta Key Association have noted that they pass along to the Tax Collector’s Office any reports they get from members about homes being rented illegally for short-term vacation purposes. “Hotel houses” is the term used for residential structures built to accommodate up to 20 or more guests, even in single-family home neighborhoods.

Virginia Haley addresses the County Commission in January 2020. News Leader image

In other data for April, Virginia Haley, president of the county’s tourism office — Visit Sarasota County — reported recently to community leaders that the number of visitors in April who stayed in paid lodging was 146,400, a 10.3% increase above the figure for April 2019. (Haley told members of the county’s Tourist Development Council last week that she was using 2019 figures because of the anomalies the pandemic produced in figures for 2020.)

Direct visitor expenditures in April totaled $151,371,800, a 15.1% increase above the amount for April 2019, Haley wrote in an email.

Lodging occupancy in April was 80.9%, a 7.6% uptick compared to the figure for April 2019, she noted.

The average daily room rate in April was $247.44, a 22.5% increase compared to the number for April 2019, Haley wrote.

Finally, the total room nights sold in April was 338,600, a 16.9% jump, compared to the April 2019 total, she pointed out.