‘Bed tax’ revenue takes 48% tumble in March, compared to total for March 2019

Latest report from Tax Collector’s Office shows collections for first half of fiscal year down about $447,000, compared to same period of FY19

On Sunday, March 15, before Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his recommendation for ‘social distancing’ on the beaches, people populate Siesta Public Beach. Photo courtesy of Harriet Cuthbert

As anticipated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on tourism, Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Tax (TDT) — or “bed tax” — revenue took a steep drop in March, the latest data from Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates’ office shows.

In March of this year, the TDT revenue totaled $2,221,776.55, compared to $4,253,811.23 in March 2019, Ford-Coates’ staff has reported. That is a drop of about 48%, year-over-year.

Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, the county’s tourism office, told community leaders in an April 29 email that she and her staff expected the TDT revenue to be down 50% this March.

Typically, the March collections add up to the highest figure for the county’s entire fiscal year. In March 2018, as well as March 2019, the TDT revenue exceeded $4 million. Passing the $4-million figure two years ago was a milestone, Deputy Chief Tax Collector Sherri Smith told members of the county’s Tourist Development Council in February.

Altogether, through March, the total amount of TDT funds the county has collected since the fiscal year began on Oct. 1, 2019 was $13,507,034.06, Ford-Coates’ staff reported. That marks a $446,822.25 decline, compared to the figure for the same period of the 2019 fiscal year.

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

Over the past decade, the TDT revenue set new annual records, as Kim Radtke, director of the county’s Office of Financial Management, told members of the county’s Tourist Development Council in February. In fact, she said, the average growth rate over that period was 9.6% per year.

With the COVID-19 pandemic not even on the local horizon at the time of that council meeting, Radtke also said staff was projecting conservative growth of 3% a year for the revenue through the 2024 fiscal year.

The 5% Tourist Development Tax is charged on accommodations rented for six months or less time.

The only positive numbers in the latest TDT comparison report reflect higher month-over-month increases than the Tax Collector’s Office originally reported for January and February.

Instead of collections being up $463,927.21 in February, the revised total shows a 25% month-over-month jump of $580,558.63.

For January, the uptick was smaller. Instead of being $464,150.07 higher than the January 2019 total, the new figure marks a month-over-month increase of $466,671.90.

Ford-Coates and her staff have explained that audits and other enforcement actions often lead to the refinements of the numbers as the fiscal year goes on.

This is the latest location report for the TDT revenue. Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

The latest Tax Collector’s Office report also notes that collections from Airbnb hosts in the county through March were $914,157.35. In March 2019, that figure was $794,878.32. Thus, the amount for this March reflects a 15% increase month-over-month.

Altogether, collections from hosts of accommodations working through online platforms added up to $1,728,675.03 through March.

The county agreement with Airbnb dates to April 2017. In April 2019, Deputy Chief Tax Collector Smith told the Tourist Development Council members, the Tax Collector’s Office worked with the Office of the County Attorney to executive agreements with HomeAway and TripAdvisor, as well, including those companies’ subsidiaries.

Through March, the location with the highest total TDT collections reported was Siesta Key, with 28.28%. The City of Sarasota was in second place, with 27.67%. March marks the first month of this fiscal year for Siesta to overtake the city.

As for March data complied on behalf of Visit Sarasota County (VSC): VSC President Haley notified community leaders of the following information via email: “Very strong numbers in the beginning of the month, running an average occupancy in the mid-80% range but dropping down to the mid-teens by the end of the month.”

She added that the number of visitors in March was down by 49.9%, to 84,400, compared to the March 2019 total.

Visitor direct spending in March dropped by 52.8%, to $97,626,700, compared to the March 2019 figure, Haley continued.

Lodging occupancy was down to a range between 43.6% and 50.5%, “compared to 89.6% last March,” she wrote.

The average daily lodging rate dropped 29.9%, to $169.46, from the March 2019 average of $241.79.

Total room nights sold dropped to 224,500, down 42.8% from the number for March 2019, she added.