President of the county’s tourism office cites a stronger dollar and the U.S. presidential election as factors
Preliminary data shows the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue Sarasota County collected for the month of June was down by $41,496.76 compared to the figure for June 2015.
Entities that collect the “bed tax” have to report their figures by a certain date each month, the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office staff has explained to The Sarasota News Leader. Therefore, the total often is updated later, after final numbers are available.
When checking with the Tax Collector’s Office, Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, told the News Leader this week she learned “a couple of significant accounts are still out,” so the figure will change.
The July 31 report puts the total for June of this year at $1,395,138.77, about a 3-percent decrease compared with the figure for June 2015, which was $1,436,635.53.
“My numbers certainly would lead me to expect that it would be flat or down slightly,” Haley said in an Aug. 17 telephone interview with the News Leader. Figures provided through Visit Sarasota County’s ongoing research showed the number of tourists grew only by 0.7 percent in June of this year compared to the same month in 2015, Haley added. Hotel/condominium occupancy was down 1.3 percent year-over-year for June, she noted, but the average daily rate for a room was up by 2 percent.
“The international visitation is starting to drop,” Haley explained. The June figures would not necessarily reflect Great Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, she said. What they do show is the impact of the dollar’s strength compared to European and Canadian currency. Conversely, in spite of the terrorist attacks in Europe that have made front-page headlines this summer, Haley pointed out, Europe and Canada “become more attractive destinations for our domestic market.” Americans who have contemplated trips abroad have been tempted by the savings they could achieve this summer, she added.
“In-state [tourism] was still good,” she noted, but her figures also showed “a bit of a dip” in the number of travelers from the Northeastern United States.
Yet one more significant factor affecting tourism this year is the U.S. presidential election, Haley explained. “You’re just seeing very skittish consumers.” That is a trend seen every time the White House is expecting a new occupant, she said.
Other factors that could have an impact during the rest of this year are the national news media reports on the blue-green algae that plagued counties mostly on the east coast of Florida earlier this summer, as well as the Zika virus, Haley noted. Although one case of a person infected with the virus has been documented in Sarasota County, state health officials reported on Aug. 12, the illness was said to be related to the individual’s travel to an area where mosquitoes have been spreading Zika. It is not uncommon for people who live outside Florida to develop the misperception that such problems are widespread in the state, she added.
She is hoping those issues will not have a bad impact on the county’s TDT collections for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Regardless of the June figure, the cumulative TDT revenue total for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, 2015 was $670,351 higher than the figure for the same period of the previous fiscal year, according to the report issued by the Tax Collector’s office as of July 31.
Altogether, the county has collected $16,547,854.88 for the current fiscal year.
The monthly location report shows Siesta Key businesses still leading the way. Through July 31, Siesta Key accounted for 31.91 percent of the total revenue — $5,280,140.05. The city of Sarasota was in second place with 29.51 percent, or $4,883,058.
During the 2015 fiscal year, TDT revenue totaled more than $19 million for the first time in Sarasota County. The final figure for the year ending Sept. 30, 2015 was $19,068,293.65. That was an increase of more than 12 percent over the previous fiscal year’s figure, the Tax Collector’s Office staff wrote in its last annual report on TDT revenue.