Total more than three-and-a-half times higher than the figure for May 2020, during the early stages of the pandemic
Sarasota County collected more than three-and-a-half times the amount of Tourist Development Tax — or, “bed tax” — revenue in May than it took in during May 2020, during the early period of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That is just one facet of the latest report from Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates and her staff.
Altogether, the May collections added up to $2,773,460.92, the new report says. That compares to $761,301.60 in May 2020, the report points out.
Put another way, the county took in $2,012,159.32 more in May of this year than it did in May 2020.
In May 2019, the total Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue turned over to Ford-Coates’ staff was $1,591,306.13. Therefore, the May collections this year were up about 7.4%, compared to the May 2019 total.
Virginia Haley, president of the county’s tourism office, Visit Sarasota County (VSC), used the 2019 numbers for comparison in her May report to local government leaders — just as she did in April. Haley referenced the latest data collected for her office by a Tallahassee research firm as “the amazing May numbers.” The total for visitors in paid lodging in the county in May of this year was 155,100, she wrote, a 33.7% increase over the May 2019 number of 116,000.
Through the first eight months of this fiscal year — which began on Oct. 1, 2020 — the bed tax revenue is up $5,794,949.29, compared to the figure for the same period of the 2020 fiscal year, Ford-Coates’ new reports note.
The county had experienced more than a decade of increases from year to year in its TDT revenue prior to the pandemic, Office of Financial Management staff has pointed out. The TDT total for the 2019 fiscal year was $23,379,574.72. Last year, it fell to $21,068,617.82. With four months left in this fiscal year, the total is $20,981,332.14.
Business owners in the hospitality industry — and even Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman — have remarked on the fact that the number of visitors to the area has remained much higher than usual following Easter. Typically, in the past, individuals in the hospitality industry marked Easter as the end of high tourist season.
Another figure in the latest data from Ford-Coates’ staff reflects the increasing popularity of online platforms as the source for tourists’ homes away from home. (The 5% Tourist Development Tax is charged on rentals of accommodations for six months or less time.)
Airbnb hosts have collected $2,727,759.87 through May of this fiscal year. The new number marks an increase of approximately 17% over the total through April, which was $2,322,695.67.
Through May 2019, Airbnb collections totaled $1,085,723.24.
Along with Airbnb, the county has agreements with TripAdvisor and Vrbo — and their subsidiaries — to turn over their hosts’ revenue to Ford-Coates’ office. However, the online platforms do not have to identify those hosts.
From October 2020 through May, hosts offering accommodations through online platforms have accounted for 20.75% of the TDT revenue, the new data show. Siesta Key’s contribution of funds makes up 26.46% of the total, while the City of Sarasota’s portion is 25.54%, the latest location report notes.
Figuratively, the city and Siesta Key have “battled it out” over the years to see which can collect the most bed tax money. The city prevailed in the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years, Ford-Coates’ annual TDT reports showed.
Among other details in the new data, the TDT totals for both March and April are higher than initially reported. The new March figure is up $1,894,768.45, compared to the March 2020 number. That compares to the $1,866,311.62 month-over-month hike for March in the previous report.
Ford-Coates and her staff have explained that audits and other enforcement actions can result in changes from month to month.
The latest April total is higher by $3,229,769.71 than the April 2020 figure. The new figure is up about 1.3% from the previous report’s increase for April: $3,187,687.27.
Conversely, the month-over-month decrease for February this year, compared to February 2020, has grown in the latest report. Revenue in February this year was down $675,830.30, compared to the total in February 2020. The previous report said the February amount dropped $671,093.43.
The first COVID-19 cases in Florida were not identified until March 1, 2020.
Among other data collected for Visit Sarasota County for May, Haley noted in her report to local government leaders the following:
- Visitors in paid lodging had direct expenditures of $150,812,000 in May, a 33.9% increase compared to the May 2019 figure of $112,604,500.
- Lodging occupancy in May was 78%, a 20.9% hike over the 64.5% level in May 2019.
- The lodging room rate in May averaged $213.51, a 28.8% increase over the May 2019 average of $165.74.
- The number of room nights sold in May was 278,100, a 16.3% increase over the May 2019 total of 239,140.
Haley also wrote in her update, “In activities that bode well for the future, our Visit Sarasota County team has been hosting a variety of travel trade in our destination in the past month. We had two groups with VISIT FLORIDA — travel agents and outdoor/nature journalists and influencers. We also hosted the U.S. Black Cultural Heritage Road Trip. When we bring the travel trade to the destination, it means that they will be writing articles and content and helping us to sell Sarasota County to their clients.”