‘Bed tax’ revenue sets new county record, with two months of collections left for the fiscal year

Total for 10 months exceeds $27.6 million, compared to collections of $23.4 million for entire 2019 fiscal year

Although fireworks shows were cancelled for July Fourth in 2020, because of the pandemic, pyrotechnics lit up skies on the Fourth this year, including this part of the display on Siesta Key. Image from the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Facebook page

With two months of collections remaining for the 2021 fiscal year, Sarasota County’s “bed tax” revenue already has beaten the county’s previous record-breaking total, which came at the end of the 2019 fiscal year.

Through July, the county had taken in $27,636,750.12 in Tourist Development Tax (TDT) money, the latest data from Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates and her staff show. The total TDT revenue in the 2019 fiscal year was $23,380,566.92.

Kim Radtke, director of the county’s Office of Financial Management, has pointed out that before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the county set a new record for its “bed tax” collections each year for more than a decade.

The 5% tax is charged on accommodations rented for six months or less time.

The TDT revenue through July is higher by $9,025,898.47, Ford-Coates staff reports, than it was through the first 10 months of the 2020 fiscal year.

Altogether, with tourism having suffered because of concerns about the pandemic, the county took in a total of $21,071,458.01 in TDT funds in FY 2020.

For July itself, collections were up $1,518,939.27, compared to the figure for July 2020, the new data show. In fact, July became the fourth month for the bed tax funds to exceed the $3-million mark in this fiscal year. During the 2019 fiscal year, February and March were the only months when TDT revenue added up to more than $3 million. In fact, in March of that fiscal year, the collections exceeded $4 million, Ford-Coates’ staff has reported.

The total amount of collections this July was $3,293,674.07, whereas in July 2020, the figure was $1,774,734.80, the new data show. Thus, the July total this year is about 85.6% higher than the July 2020 amount.

Business owners, county commissioners and even Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman have commented on the fact that tourism stayed strong well into the summer — well beyond the traditional drop-off point marked by the Easter holiday period.

These are the latest Tourist Development Tax revenue figures, through July. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

Yet another trend that local government leaders — and residents on the barrier islands — have remarked on extensively during the past couple of years is underscored, as well, in the latest reports from the Tax Collector’s Office: Rentals of accommodations through online platforms continue to rise. Through July, hosts who advertise county dwellings through Airbnb, Vrbo.com and TripAdvisor — and subsidiaries of the latter two — accounted for 20.35% of the total TDT revenue. That compares to Siesta Key’s 27.17% share of the funds and the City of Sarasota’s portion, 25.84%.

The revenue generated by Airbnb hosts alone through July was $3,407,833.41, Ford-Coates’ staff noted. Airbnb is the only one of the online platforms that provides a cumulative figure, which is a facet of its contract with Sarasota County.

In July 2020, Airbnb reported that its hosts collected $1,368,042.01. Thus, the amount turned over to the Tax Collector’s Office for this July was about two-and-a-half times higher than the figure for July 2020.

Together, through July 2020, the online platforms had contributed 13.7% of the total bed tax revenue, Ford-Coates’ staff noted at the time.

These are the revenue collections by location in the county, through July. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

Among other details in the new report, audits and other enforcement actions have continued to reduce month-over-month deficits in comparisons of figures in the 2020 fiscal year before the pandemic began. Additionally, month-over-month increases shown in earlier TDT reports have grown, the new data make clear.

For example, the initial report for June said the county brought in $1,569,581.97 more than it did in June 2020. The new report shows that uptick was $1,583,834.51.

For another example, the June report noted that collections were down $94,423.60 in November 2020, compared to the amount turned over to the Tax Collector’s Office in November 2019. The latest data show the month-over-month drop has been pared to $94,030.90.

This graphic shows historical revenue data for the county’s Tourist Development Tax. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In the report on July figures that she provided to local government leaders, Virginia Haley, president of the county’s tourism office, Visit Sarasota County, continued her comparisons to data collected in 2019. She has noted that, because of the pandemic, the 2019 benchmarks are a better point of reference.

In July of this year, Haley wrote, “[W]e had 147,300 visitors in paid lodging compared to 106,200 in July 2019, a 38.7% increase.

Direct visitor expenditures in July totaled $150,591,500, she pointed out, which was 70.3% higher than the total for July 2019.

Lodging occupancy in July hit the 80.2% mark, she added, a 21.9% increase over July 2019’s occupancy rate of 65.8%.

The average daily room rate in July was $209.89, Haley reported, a 28.5% hike over July 2019’s rate of $163.38.

Finally, she noted, 290,200 room nights were sold in July, compared to 224,700 in July 2019, representing a 29.1% increase.