The $20-million total is up 4.9% compared to the figure from the previous year; Sarasota County lands another major event: the 2018 World Sailing Conference
It is difficult to follow up a year that saw record Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue with an even better year, but “you did it,” Phillip Downs, a consultant working with Visit Sarasota County, told the county’s Tourist Development Council last week.
“We’re very excited,” Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, said as she talked of the county’s beating the $20-million mark in TDT revenue for the 2016 fiscal year.
“It’s one of the very few counties in Florida to have [reached that level],” Downs pointed out.
The figure reported by the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office through Sept. 30 — the last day of the fiscal year — was $20,010,245, a 4.9% increase from the FY 2015 total of $19,077,233.
And that information was just part of the positive news the Tourist Development Council (TDC) members heard on Nov. 17. Rob Wells, director of sports for Visit Sarasota County, announced that he had returned from Barcelona on Nov. 14 after attending the World Sailing Conference. Visit Sarasota County staff put in a bid for the 2018 conference, he said, and it learned that it had been chosen as the host. In fact, Wells continued, this marks the first time the United States ever has been named as the site of the event.
World Sailing is the governing body for all 10 Olympic sailing competitions, he explained to the TDC members — one of the largest clusters of medal events in the Summer Olympics.
Barcelona had attendees from more than 100 countries for its World Sailing Conference, he pointed out, which leads him to anticipate similar representation in Sarasota County in two years.
Along with the Rolex Sailor of the Year Award Dinner, he noted, the 2018 event for the first time will combine meetings of representatives of the America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean Race and the Extreme Sailing Series.
Already, he said, Visit Sarasota County staff has begun working with the Sarasota Sailing Squadron and hotels and motels in the area to prepare for the event. Wells added that the conference probably will be the biggest sports-related event for the community ever, except for the 2017 World Rowing Championships.
In regard to the TDT report, data compiled by the Tax Collector’s office showed that December 2015 saw the greatest increase in revenue per month during the 2016 fiscal year — 13.9% — compared to FY15 figures. July was in second place, with a hike of 10.1%.
August had the smallest rise year-over-year: 0.1%, followed by April, with 0.3%.
Siesta Key led all locations for the percentage of TDT revenue collected: 32.39, followed by the city of Sarasota, 30.22%.
The latest record-breaking tourist season
During a presentation for the TDC members, Downs and Joseph St. Germain —principals of the firm Downs & St. Germain Research in Tallahassee — explained details of their analysis of tourism in the county in the 2016 fiscal year. The data resulted from interviews with about 3,000 people, St. German noted.
Altogether, 2,468,200 people visited the county, Downs reported, and their spending led to about $1.7 billion in direct economic impact and an overall economic impact of $2,827,895,700.
About 47% of them stayed in paid accommodations, he noted, generating approximately 2.5 million room nights.
The number of visitors has climbed by more than 400,000 in just the past two fiscal years, he pointed out.
The typical tourist spends $900 while he or she is in Sarasota County, Downs continued. International visitors spend approximately 24% more, he added — about $1,109.
Based on the firm’s research, Downs said, every 102 tourists create one new job in the county; altogether, one in seven county jobs — 24,300 — “are emanating from tourism.” Those represent $652,041,900 in wages, he pointed out.
The top three ways visitors spend their money, he continued, are on accommodations, restaurants and shopping. In FY16, tourists’ direct spending related to where they stayed was $1,713,876,200, as noted in a chart he showed the council.
The top reason cited for a trip to the county was vacation, as reported by 78% of those interviewed, St. Germain said; visiting friends and relatives was in second place with 35%.
Moreover, St. Germain told the council, “Ninety-two percent of your visitors were satisfied or very satisfied” with their time in Sarasota County, and another 95% have been telling their friends about the community. Altogether, he continued, 94% said they planned to return.
As for the top attractions: St. Germain reported that, in order, those were St. Armands Circle, the Unconditional Surrender statue on the Sarasota bayfront, Mote Marine Aquarium, the Mall at University Town Center, the Ringling Museum of Art, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Selby Gardens and Myakka River State park.
The top cities from which visitors traveled to Sarasota County, he pointed out, were New York City, Tampa/Clearwater, Washington, D.C./Baltimore, Boston and Chicago.
For first-time tourists to the area, he said, the top markets from which they hailed were Grand Rapids, the United Kingdom, Buffalo-Rochester, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Cleveland and Detroit.
As for all those new hotels …
On Nov. 17, Haley also provided information members had requested when they last met, in June, regarding new hotels in the county.
First, Haley noted that the 139-room Aloft Hotel opened in February on Palm Avenue in downtown Sarasota. During the summer, she added, renovations of the 22 rooms at the Siesta Key Palms Resort — a “delightful property on Stickney Point” Road — were completed.
The latter facility “had been closed for some time,” she pointed out.
Projects underway are scheduled to open as follows:
- The Westin, north of the Vue Sarasota Bay on U.S. 41 in downtown Sarasota — 255 rooms and 21,000 square feet of space for functions, including a 6,000-square-foot ballroom; May 2017.
- Hilton Homes2Suites, Nokomis — 100 rooms; March 1, 2017.
- Homewood Suites by Hilton, near the Mall at University Town Center — 103 rooms; mid-March 2017.
- Embassy Suites, downtown Sarasota — 180 suites and 4,000 square feet of meeting space; between October and December 2017.
- Hotel Sarasota, next to the Palm Avenue parking garage in Sarasota — 163 rooms; opening date to be announced.
A groundbreaking is planned in early December for the 100-room Carlisle Inn in Pinecraft, which will have 100 rooms, Haley said. Additionally, construction is expected to begin shortly on a Hampton Inn on Fruitville Road in downtown Sarasota, she said; plans call for it to have 80 to 100 rooms.