Total economic impact of tourism expenditures in county close to $3 billion for the 2017 fiscal year

Number of visitors who stayed in paid lodging in county grew by 4.2% during 2017 fiscal year, with their direct spending up 6%

A chart shows the figures for direct spending of tourists in Sarasota County during the 2017 fiscal year. Image courtesy Visit Sarasota County

The overall number of visitors to Sarasota County in the 2017 fiscal year was 2,710,300, research undertaken for Visit Sarasota County has shown.

Even more noteworthy was the fact that their spending created an economic impact on the county of $2,989,923,750, Phillip Downs, senior partner of Downs & St. Germain Research of Tallahassee, reported on Nov. 16.

The number of visitors to Sarasota County who stayed in paid lodging during the 2017 fiscal rose 4.2% compared to the figure for the previous fiscal year; the total was 1,216,580, the research showed.

The figures were unveiled during the latest meeting of the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC).

The total number of tourists reflected a hike of almost 10% from the FY16 figure, Downs pointed out.

Each of those visitors who stays in paid accommodations contributes $967 to the county economy, Downs continued, based on the multiplier formula his firm applies to survey data it collects.

Every international tourist staying in paid lodging poured $1,205 into the county economy, Downs continued.

Altogether, visitors are responsible for 24,700 jobs in Sarasota County, which pay $673,379,500 in wages, he said, noting that research has shown that one job is created for every 110 tourists.

A graphic shows the impact of tourism on employment in Sarasota County. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The job total has climbed steadily from 22,500 in the 2014 fiscal year, he noted.

Additionally, Tourist Development Tax revenue saves $640 per Sarasota County household, he pointed out. The county set another record for that revenue in the 2017 fiscal year: $21,115,683.

Visit Sarasota County’s marketing expenses for the 2017 fiscal year resulted in a $743 return on investment in the form of visitor spending, Downs continued. The direct outlay of money in the county by all of the tourists in the 2017 fiscal year was $1,812,075,000, he reported. Those who stayed in paid accommodations generated $1,176,505,100, or about 65% of the total, he told the TDC members. Another $495,012,100 came from visitors who stayed with friends and relatives, he added. Almost one out of four tourists reported using such accommodations, Downs said.

“The key is kicking them out of your guest room and getting them into a hotel,” joked Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County.

Haley and her staff noted that direct visitor spending was up 6% year-over-year, beating the 4% goal Visit Sarasota County had set for the fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1, 2016 and ended on Sept. 30.

A graphic shows the climb in the number of tourists recorded in the county over the past three fiscal years. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Accommodations benefited the most from tourist spending, Downs said, taking in $543,470,700; restaurants were in second place, with $535,101,100.

Asked how they had learned about Sarasota County, Downs noted that 44% of visitors cited word of mouth. Another 44% had read about the community on the internet, he said.

TDC Vice Chair Norman Schimmel, who has an extensive marketing background, pointed to the significance of word-of-mouth advertising, saying it was impossible to put a monetary value on that.

A graphic shows changes year-over-year related to tourism in the county. Image courtesy Visit Sarasota County

Altogether, 93% of those surveyed reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their experience in the county, Downs continued, and 81% plan to return.

The top four attractions, in order, were St. Armands Circle, Mote Marine Aquarium, the Unconditional Surrender statute near Bayfront Park in Sarasota and the Mall at University Town Center, Downs said.

Arts and cultural programming

During his fiscal year-end report to the TDC, Jim Shirley, executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, had more good news.

Almost 1.6 million tourists attended the 36 projects county arts grants supported in the 2017 fiscal year, he said.

The total amount of grant funding was $1,931,737, which went to 33 county organizations, he reported.

A pie chart he showed the TDC members noted that 26% of attendance at those programs represented out-of-state residents, while another 26% reflected Florida residents living outside Sarasota County. Another 4% of attendees were visitors from countries other than the United States.

A graph shows trends in tourism attendance and residents’ attendance at arts and cultural programs in Sarasota County. Image courtesy Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County

Sarasota County and city residents made up the final 44% of the total, the pie chart showed.

A 2015 national study undertaken by the Americans for the Arts — which included a look at Sarasota County arts and cultural programs — showed that 7,445 county jobs were linked to the arts, with arts and cultural organizations accounting for $295 million in direct expenditures, $12.4 million in local government revenue and $20 million in state government revenue, Shirley continued.

On its website, Americans for the Arts explains, “Our mission is to serve, advance, and lead the network of organizations and individuals who cultivate, promote, sustain, and support the arts in America. Connecting your best ideas and leaders from the arts, communities, and business, together we can work to ensure that every American has access to the transformative power of the arts.”

Altogether, more than 1.2 million tourists attended arts and cultural programming in Sarasota County during the period examined for that survey, Shirley pointed out.

On Oct. 26, the Alliance hosted a luncheon at Michael’s On East, which featured Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy for Americans for the Arts, Shirley noted. Attendees were leaders in business, government and the arts in the community, he added. “We had a sold-out crowd.”

“I think the luncheon was a great idea to really show that arts do positively impact the economy,” County Commissioner Charles Hines, chair of the TDC, told Shirley.