More than $3.1 billion estimated as tourism’s economic impact on Sarasota County in 2019 fiscal year

Research firm provides Tourist Development Council details about visitor spending and demographics

This is the total amount of economic impact from tourism in Sarasota County in the 2019 fiscal year, a research firm has reported. Image courtesy Visit Sarasota County

Tourism produced slightly more than $3.1 billion in economic impact for Sarasota County in the 2019 fiscal year, the senior partner of a Tallahassee research firm has reported to members of the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC).

Phillip Downs of Downs and St. Germain Research provided a variety of details to the TDC members during their regular meeting on Jan. 16. Among his other data: The average tourist who came to the county during the 2019 fiscal year was 52 and had a median household income of $121,025.

Based on his firm’s face-to-face interviews with about 2,700 people between Oct. 1, 2018 and Sept. 30, 2019, Downs noted, 96% of all tourists who traveled to Sarasota County were satisfied or very satisfied with their experiences, and 83% of them plan to return. Another 74%, Downs said, would recommend the Sarasota area to friends.

The total amount of direct spending of tourists in the county during the 2019 fiscal year was $1,881,580,800, Downs told the TDC members. The sampling error for his firm’s data, he noted, is less than 2%. Thus, he continued, Downs & St. Germain believes the upper limit of the direct spending figure would be about $1.91 billion.

Downs & St. Germain works on behalf of Visit Sarasota County, the county’s tourism agency.

And how do visitors spend their money in the county?

A chart provides details about tourists’ direct spending. Image courtesy Visit Sarasota County

Sixty percent of the total went to accommodations in the 2019 fiscal year, Downs said: $586,822,100. Spending in restaurants took second place, with $563,630,700, he added.

Shopping was in third place, with $346,524,600.

Thus, the top three groups of recipients of those tourist dollars in the county accounted for 80% of the total for the 2019 fiscal year, Downs noted.

Further, two-thirds of visitors’ direct spending went to accommodations: $1,259,203,200. People staying with friends or family members accounted for another $509,735,500. “Day trippers,” Downs said, spent $112,642,100.

Another slide Downs showed the TDC members pointed out that for every $1 spent by a visitor staying in paid accommodations, Sarasota County realizes an economic benefit of $992, based on his firm’s calculations.

He also noted that the total amount of Tourist Development Tax (TDT) — or “bed tax” — revenue the county collected in the 2019 fiscal year was $23,345,255. That was up 2.6% from the FY2018 figure. Because of that TDT income, Downs emphasized, county residents essentially save $648 per household in taxes or fees they would otherwise have to pay to support all the initiatives that the TDT revenue covers.

During an earlier overview of TDT expenditures in the 2019 fiscal year, Doreen Buonpastore, a fiscal analyst in the county’s Office of Financial Management, reported to the TDC members that $7,445,366 — 29.3% — went to Visit Sarasota County efforts to market the county to visitors. In second place, $4,110,040 — 16.2% — was used for beach maintenance in the county. City of Sarasota beach maintenance accounted for 14.9% of the total: $3,788,041. The latter figure, Buonpastore explained, went to the city’s emergency beach renourishment project on Lido Key, which was completed in April 2019.

This pie chart shows how county Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue was spent in the 2019 fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Another 14%, she said, was allocated to the “Sports Stadium” account. That covers the debt service on a bond the county issued to pay for construction of the CoolToday Stadium near North Port, where the Atlanta Braves will conduct their first full season of Spring Training this year, plus maintenance and repairs at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, where the Baltimore Orioles will play their 10thSpring Training season beginning in February. The total amount spent on the stadiums was $3,560,308, Buonpastore pointed out.

The Orioles have generated an estimated $400,000 a year in TDT revenue, according to slides that Jennifer Grondahl, senior vice president for the team, showed the TDC members on Jan. 16. The total since 2015 is more than $1.2 million, she added.

The TDT is a 5% tax charged on rentals of all accommodations for six months or less time.

During his presentation on the 2019 fiscal year, Downs noted that tourism in FY2019 produced 25,100 jobs in the county and $694,090,300 in wages. The formula his firm uses, he noted, attributes one county job per 112 visitors.

Downs also told the TDC members that every dollar Visit Sarasota County spent on advertising in the 2019 fiscal year produced about $489 in visitor spending.

Tourist demographics

This chart shows the top reasons visitors say they come to Sarasota County. Image courtesy Visit Sarasota County

Among other details from his firm’s research, Downs explained that a desire to get rid of stress is “the main reason [visitors] come.”

His firm determined that by conducting focus group sessions a few years ago for Visit Sarasota County, he said.

“Ahhh,” he added, is the typical reaction tourists say they have when they arrive in Sarasota County.

As for their means of travel in FY2019: Two out of three drove, Downs said. Another 15% came via air travel through the Tampa International Airport, while 10% used the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

And where do they come from? Almost 30% live in the Northeastern United States, Downs pointed out. However, “Florida has been growing” as the provider of visitors to Sarasota County, he added. The percentage of tourists from Florida in FY2019 was 18.2%, he said.

This chart offers data on where visitors to the county originate. Image courtesy Visit Sarasota County

Further, 85% of the visitors are domestic, Downs noted. More than half of those from outside the United States are Canadians, he added.

Of Sarasota’s top markets, Downs continued, New York led the way, accounting for 7.9% of the visitors to Sarasota County. Atlanta was in second place, with 4.6% in FY2019, followed by the Tampa area (4.3%) and Washington, D.C.-Baltimore (4.1%). The latter fact, Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County has noted, is mostly attributable to the county’s agreement with the Orioles. The team is generous with the marketing assistance it provides Visit Sarasota County to draw fans to the county, Haley has reported on many occasions.

Toronto and Ontario were home to 3.5% of all the visitors in the last fiscal year, Downs also noted, though he said Toronto accounted for the majority.