Number of county visitors in March nearly double the March 2020 figure, with ‘bed tax’ revenue up about 68%

Latest Tourist Development Tax revenue report shows total collections higher than figure for same period of 2020 fiscal year

This chart, presented to the Tourist Development Council in February, shows how the Tourist Development Tax revenue is divvied up. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Tax — or, “bed tax” — revenue was $1,812,185.39 higher in March than the figure for March 2020, when many county-operated facilities, including the public beaches, were closed part of the time because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That is the latest news on the collections from Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates and her staff.

The Tourist Development Tax (TDT) money turned over to the county for March added up to $4,486,532.07, compared to $2,674,346.68 in March 2020, the new data show. That is a month-over-month increase of about 68%.

The latest report also marks the first time since October 2020, when this fiscal year began, that the TDT revenue has been higher for a month than it was in the same month the previous fiscal year.

Altogether, the bed tax funds are up by $397,280.77 for the first half of the fiscal year. The new data show that entities have collected $14,532,949.04 since Oct. 1, 2020. That compares to the $13,507,034.06 total in the report for the same period of the 2020 fiscal year — October 2019 through March 2020.

The 5% Tourist Development Tax (TDT) is charged on rentals of accommodations for six months or less time.

Additionally, the latest data show that the month-over-month drops have continued to decline as this fiscal year has gone on. For example, the previous report from Ford-Coates’ staff showed that TDT collections in February were down $749,340.74, compared to the total for February 2020. The new report pares that month-over-month decline to $700,149.82.

Ford-Coates and her staff have explained that audits and other enforcement actions can lead to changes in the numbers from one report to the next, as each fiscal year goes on.

For another example, the previous report showed a month-over-month drop of $413,428.26 for January. The new figure shows a decrease of $393,381.62.

This is the March ‘comparison’ report. Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

Further, the latest report puts the total amount of money collected by Airbnb hosts in the county so far this fiscal year at $1,794,788.54. Through February, the total was $1,342,900.86.

From October 2019 through March 2020, Airbnb hosts turned over to the Tax Collector’s Office $914,157.35, that report said. Thus, the Airbnb revenue this fiscal year is up approximately 96% for the same period.

During a February report to the county’s Tourist Development Council, Sherri Smith, chief deputy tax collector for Sarasota County, pointed out that the TDT collections resulting from online accommodations platform rentals have grown significantly over the past couple of years. The latest data show they account for 20.87% of the bed tax funds at this point of the 2021 fiscal year. That compares to 12.8% for the same period of the 2020 fiscal year, Ford-Coates’ staff reports show.

Figuratively, over the years, Siesta Key and the City of Sarasota have “battled it out” to determine which would end up collecting the largest amount of TDT revenue for the fiscal year. The latest data put Siesta Key ahead, with 26.93% of the share through March, compared to 23.97% for the city.

This is the breakdown of TDT collections by location in the county. Image courtesy Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates

In related information, data collected by the Tallahassee firm of Downs & St. Germain Research for Visit Sarasota County, the county’s tourism office, showed the number of visitors in March was 169,700, up 98.7%, compared to the March 2020 figure of 85,400. The tourists’ direct spending climbed 108.4% month-over-month, that report noted. The total for March of this year was $203,408,000. That compared to $206,836,300 in March 2019, the report said.

Altogether, Downs & St. Germain pointed out, the total number of visitors thus far this fiscal year is down only 3.9%, and their spending is 4.5% lower than for the same period of the 2020 fiscal year.

Room occupancy in March marked a 74.3% jump, compared to the figure for March 2020: 88% for this March; 50.5%, for March 2020.

The average room rate this March was 64% higher than the March 2020 amount: $277.95, compared to $169.46. The average room rate in March 2019 was $241.79, the report says.

Further, the average revenue per room jumped 185.8% in March of this year: $244.60, compared to $85.58 in March 2020.

A sign posted in March 2020 warns the public that Siesta Public Beach Park is closed because of the pandemic. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Finally, the number of room nights sold this March was up 71%, month-over-month, to 383,900.

Not only does Downs & St. Germain have employees who interview tourists in the county, but the firm also reviews a variety of tourism industry reports to provide the data to Visit Sarasota County, principals of the firm have explained to the Tourist Development Council.

The final note in the Downs & St. Germain report for March says that property owners and general managers of accommodations in the county “are extremely optimistic this month, as 95% [of them] say demand over the next 3 months will be more than demand at the same time last year.”