‘Bed tax’ revenue sets new record in 2021 fiscal year with more than $30 million in collections

Siesta Key tops city of Sarasota with largest percentage of funds by location

This is a photo of the Venice Fishing Pier that Visit Sarasota County, the county’s tourism office, posted on Sept. 27 on its Facebook page. Sept. 27 was World Tourism Day, the post noted. Image courtesy Visit Sarasota County

For the first time ever, Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Tax — or, “bed tax” — revenue has exceeded $30 million in a fiscal year.

The final figures for the 2021 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, show the total amount of the revenue taken in by Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates and her staff was $30,956,783.90. That compared to the 2020 fiscal year figure of $21,071,858.01 and $23,380,566.92 in the 2019 fiscal year.

Virginia Haley, president of the county’s tourism office — Visit Sarasota County — has been comparing tourism data for this year to numbers from 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a downturn in many tourist-related activities in the 2020 fiscal years, she has pointed out.

The 2021 fiscal year revenue is 32.4% higher than the amount turned over to the county in the 2019 fiscal year.

This September, Tourist Development Tax (TDT) collections were up $341,576.83, compared to the amount the county received for the same month of 2020, Ford-Coates and her staff noted.

Collections for only four months of the 2021 fiscal year were lower than the amounts for those months in the previous fiscal year, Ford-Coates’ latest update shows: November and December 2020, and January and February of this year.

In March, the total exceeded $4 million, as it had in the 2019 fiscal year. In March 2020, when the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Florida, the TDT revenue added up to $2,679,026.48.

Before the pandemic struck in 2020, the county had recorded year-over-year increases in the bed tax collections for more than a decade. The funds result from the 5% tax imposed on rentals of accommodations for six months or less time. The money is used for a wide variety of purposes, from beach renourishment and maintenance to the upkeep of the two Major League Baseball Spring Training stadiums to the promotion of the county to visitors.

In the past county staff has reported that, after the revenue exceeded $30 million in a year, an extra penny of the Tourist Development Tax legally could be imposed, according to state law.

When The Sarasota News Leader inquired this week about that, in light of the latest report from the Tax Collector’s Office, Kim Radtke, director of the county’s Office of Financial Management, and Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, offered details in a Nov. 9 email.

Within a calendar year, not a fiscal year, the county must have more than $600 million in taxable rental receipts in the applicable district, per state statute, or a minimum of $200 million in taxable rental receipts that account for at least 18% of total taxable sales within the county, they explained.

Just a single year of such receipts is necessary, they added. Then the data must be certified by the Florida Department of Revenue, Radtke and Rissler noted.

If the Department of Revenue does certify the county as a High Impact Tourism County, they continued, then the County Commission would have to amend the county’s Tourist Development Tax Plan Ordinance to enact a levy of the sixth penny.

This is the Tourist Development Tax revenue comparison chart for the past three fiscal years. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

The online rental platform revenue boom

Another record noted in the latest report from Ford-Coates and her staff is the total for TDT revenue brought in by Airbnb hosts during the 2021 fiscal year: $3,958,161.03. The Airbnb figure for the 2019 fiscal year was $1,664,256.33. Thus, the collections for the 2021 fiscal year added up to a figure that was more than two-and-one-third higher than the total for the 2019 fiscal year.

Moreover, online platforms — including TripAdvisor and Vrbo.com, and their subsidiaries — accounted for 20.68% of the TDT revenue in FY 2021. That compared to Siesta Key’s figure of 26.76% and the city of Sarasota’s 26.14%.

Additionally, Siesta once again beat out the city of Sarasota for the largest amount of TDT collections. The two locations “battle it out” for the biggest percentage each year. Last year, the city took top honors.

However, “hotel houses” on Siesta Key, Lido Key and St. Armands Key have become an even greater focus of county residents’ complaints over the past couple of years. Such homes, which can sleep 10 or more persons a night, routinely are advertised on online rental platforms, people have pointed out during Sarasota City Commission and Siesta Key Association meetings.

Among other data in the latest TDT report: The collections for August have increased slightly since the total first was released. The original report put the month-over-month uptick at $484,033.94. However, Ford-Coates’ latest update show that the TDT revenue for August of this year was up $488,213.60, compared to the number for August 2020.

This chart shows the percentage of Tourist Development Tax revenue that each county location contributed during the 2021 fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

Ford-Coates and her staff routinely point out that audits and other enforcement actions can lead to changes in the figures from one report to another.

Visit Sarasota County reports a bountiful August, too

In her report to community leaders regarding August tourism data, Haley of Visit Sarasota County provided the following information:

  • The total number of visitors to the county in September was 86,400, a 36.6% increase, compared to the September 2019 total, Haley noted.
  • Visitor direct spending was $62,027,700 in September, a 56.9% hike, compared to the September 2019 number.
  • Lodging occupancy was 50.7%, a 17.1% uptick, compared to the figure for September 2019.
  • The average daily rate for lodging was $163.11 a 35% increase, Haley wrote.
  • Finally, the number of room nights sold was 175,300 an 11.8% increase, compared to the figure for September 2019.