October ‘bed tax’ revenue up 17% compared to figure for October 2018

Collections from hosts of accommodations advertised through online platforms make up more than 18% of total

This chart shows how the Tourist Development Tax revenue is allocated. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With red tide having remained far less of a problem in Sarasota County this far this fall, the Tourist Development Tax revenue for the first month of the 2020 fiscal year was up $170,513.10, compared to the figure for October 2019.

That is the latest news from the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office in regard to the county’s “bed tax” collections.

The nearly 17% increase month-over-month contrasts with the drop of approximately 12% in revenue collected for October 2018, compared to the amount reported in October 2017.

On Oct. 23, 2018, during a County Commission hearing the on a proposed change in Tourist Development Tax (TDT) allocations, a number of business owners described how national reporting on the effects of red tide had driven away tourists during the late summer and early fall.

In an Oct. 4 red tide report this year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) did not even mention Sarasota County. That situation changed just days later, though, with background concentrations of the red tide algae, Karenia brevis, detected off the county’s shoreline. By Oct. 30, FWC pointed out, the algae concentrations were above 100,000 cells per liter in five samples from Sarasota County.

Yet, while red tide was present at a high level from time to time in October, far fewer problems were reported overall on the county’s shoreline than those county staff and the FWC observed in October 2018.

In a county update posted on Oct. 3, 2018, staff wrote that more than 255 tons of debris had been cleaned from the beaches since Aug. 1, 2018.

In other news from the latest TDT report, total revenue for the county’s 2019 fiscal year — which ended on Sept. 30 — was even higher than the Tax Collector’s office initially announced. The new data put the figure at $23,345,254.94, compared to $23,331,462.77 in the previous report.

This chart compares the October collections to those in the same month of the previous two fiscal years. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office

Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates and her staff have explained to the county’s Tourist Development Council members that audits and other enforcement actions routinely lead to refinements of the TDT figures from month to month.

For example, the figure for September collections added up to $878,023.06 in the latest report. The previous report put the number at $869,025.84.

The 2019 fiscal year total was another record for the county, as The Sarasota News Leader reported on Nov. 15.

The 5% tax is charged on accommodations rented for six months or less time.

In its companion report for October, the Tax Collector’s Office noted that accommodations in the city of Sarasota were far ahead of those in other locations in terms of percentage of the revenue collected for the month. The city accounted for 36.21%, while Siesta Key accommodations were in second place, with 21.98%. Online platforms came in third, with 18.69%.

For October, Airbnb hosts’ total revenue was listed as $169,997.23. The online platform does not identify its hosts; instead, it provides one payment to the county that reflects all of the applicable proceeds from accommodations its county hosts rent out.

This chart shows the percentage of revenue turned over to the county from accommodations in each location. Image courtesy Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office

In related news: Visit Sarasota County reported last month to the Tourist Development Council that, for the final quarter of the 2019 fiscal year, the number of visitors staying in paid lodging declined 1.9%, compared to the same period for FY18. For the final quarter of the 2018 fiscal year, the figure was 1,293,930; in the last quarter of FY19, it was 1,268,980.

Direct visitor spending also fell slightly, by 1.2% in the last quarter. Direct visitor expenditures during that period of FY19 added up to $1,259,203,200, compared to $1,274,379,300 for the final three months of FY18, the report said.

However, the number of rooms sold rose 0.1% in the final quarter of the 2019 fiscal year, compared to the final quarter of FY18.

This is Visit Sarasota County data for the final quarter of the 2019 fiscal year. Image courtesy Visit Sarasota County

In response to a Sarasota News Leader question about how many hotel rooms have been added in the county over the past couple of years, Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County replied in a Dec. 10 email: “1,194 have been built and there are another 500 that have broken ground.”

She added that plans for even more hotel rooms have won the necessary local government permits, “but I don’t count them until ground is broken.”