In February, ‘bed tax’ revenue finally shows month-over-month increase

Overall collections down nearly $2 million, compared to figure for same period of 2023 fiscal year

Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

In February, for the first time this fiscal year, Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Tax — or, “bed tax” — revenue came in at a higher total than it had for the same month in the previous fiscal year.

The latest reports from Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates and her staff put the tally for February of this year at $5,975,296.83. That is $7,676.61 higher — approximately 0.01% — compared to the February 2023 total of $5,967,620.22.

Through the first five months of this fiscal year — which began on Oct. 1, 2023 — the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue added up to $20,611,013.91, the reports show. In contrast, through the first five months of the 2023 fiscal year, the amount was $22,323,240.82. The new reports note that the collections are down $1,924,179.67, compared to the total for the same period of the 2023 fiscal year.

The 6% tax is charged on accommodations rented for six months or less time. The funds are used for a variety of purposes laid out in a county ordinance — including beach maintenance, upkeep of the county’s two Major League Baseball Spring Training stadiums, and the marketing of the county to tourists.

Another detail in the latest reports is the total revenue from Airbnb hosts from Oct. 1, 2023 through February: $3,064,356.50. That is down nearly 2%, compared to the FY 2023 figure of $3,121,669 for the same period.

On a related note: Airbnb announced last week that its hosts generated more than $387 million in tourist tax revenue in Florida in 2023. The Airbnb news release also noted that its hosts were responsible for $4 billion overall in tax revenue in the state last year, including taxes paid not only at the local level but also at the federal and state levels, such as personal and/or corporate income taxes, Social Security taxes, and sales taxes.

Moreover, the released said that Airbnb hosts in Florida earned approximately $3.6 billion in 2023.

Among other information in the latest reports from the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office, rentals of accommodations in Sarasota County thus far this fiscal year that were made through online platforms have produced 22.36% of the TDT revenue. That is slightly higher than the 21.72% figure for the first five months of the 2023 fiscal year.

Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

The City of Sarasota and Siesta Key wage a figurative competition each year to see which will end up being the source of the largest share of the bed tax funds. The city has won the “title” the past two years. Through February, the new reports show, the figures are very close. Hosts of accommodations in the city provided 24.96% of the overall revenue, compared to 24.85% for Siesta Key.

Through February 2023, the city had accounted for 26.56% of the revenue, compared to Siesta’s 22.29%.

Yet other data in the new reports show that the month-over-month declines previously reported for December 2023 and January have fallen quite a bit.

In the first report that Ford-Coates and her staff released for January, revenue was down $520,331.32, compared to the total for January 2023. The revised figure shown in the new reports is $264,302.64.

The month-over-month decline for December 2023 was put at $319,881.22 in the prior reports. The latest data puts that figure at $285,736.67.

Ford-Coates and her staff have explained that audits and other enforcement actions can result in changes in the totals from one month to the next. She and her chief deputy tax collector, Sherri Smith, also have reported to the county’s Tourist Development Council that the staff members who handle the tax revenue work diligently to try to find properties that are being used for short-term rentals, but whose owners are not paying the tax.

Along with the data that the Tax Collector’s Office releases each month, Visit Sarasota County — the county’s tourism office — provides information based on work undertaken on its behalf by a Tallahassee firm, Downs & St. Germain Research.

Erin Duggan, president of Visit Sarasota County, shared the following details from Downs & St. Germain’s February report:

• The total number of visitors this February was 107,600, down about 12%, compared to the February 2023 total of 122,000.
• Visitor direct expenditures added up to $182,975,200, which marked a decline of approximately 4.7%, compared to the figure of $191,861,600 in February 2023.
• Lodging occupancy was 81.9%, compared to 86% in February 2023.
• The average room rate this February was $312.57, an increase of nearly 3%, compared to the average rate of $303.86 in February 2023.
• Altogether, 334,500 room nights were sold this February, a decrease of about 2.6%, compared to the 343,100 tally in February 2023.
The February data were very similar to the statistics from January, Duggan wrote in a LinkedIn post. “We see dips in number of visitors and in occupancy, but continue to see rate hold,” she noted.