Tourist Development Tax revenue continues to climb

Number of visitors to Sarasota County up by 8.2% in June, compared to same month in 2016

The new Westin Sarasota is near the intersection of Gulfstream Avenue and U.S. 41. Image from the hotel website

Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue has continued a positive trend for three months, with total collections for the fiscal year through May 31 showing an increase of almost $400,000 over the same period in the 2016 fiscal year, the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office has reported.

At the same time, Visit Sarasota County noted “a big jump in the number of hotel rooms sold in the month of June as more hotels are opening in our area,” Lynn Hobeck Bates, communications manager for Visit Sarasota County, told The Sarasota News Leader in an email this week.

Additionally, Hobeck Bates wrote, research undertaken for the county’s tourism agency found an 8.2% increase in visitors for June, year-over-year, and their spending grew by 8.5% to $90,088,500, compared to the June 2016 figure. The total number of visitors in June was 111,200, she added.

Because of a technical glitch, Hobeck Bates was unable to provide the News Leader with the May research data for Visit Sarasota County.

TDT revenue — also referred to as the “bed tax” money —totaled $1,371,984.12 in May, up by $102,988 over the figure for May 2016, the Tax Collector’s Office reported.

Final figures often change, Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates has cautioned, as subsequent audits refine them.

From Oct. 1, 2016 through May 31, the county had collected $15,613,069.79 in TDT revenue, the report shows. That reflected a hike of $399,696.98 compared to the period of Oct. 1, 2015 through May 31, 2016, according to the Tax Collector’s Office.

Sarasota County set a record last year, bringing in more than $20 million for the first time in TDT revenue.

A chart shows the Tourist Development Tax collections through May. Image courtesy Tax Collector’s Office

The latest figures also show positive revisions in the collections for March and April. The June Tax Collector’s Office report showed the March 2017 figure $99,801.03 higher than the total for March 2016. However, the latest report puts the year-over-year increase at $119,668.85.

For April, the previous report showed the collections beat the April 2016 figure by $241,275.53. The most recent report puts the year-over-year growth for April at $274,753.78.

Thus far, April has proven to be the best month for TDT revenue in the county this fiscal year. The fact that Easter fell on April 16 most likely is a contributing factor, based on past comments by tourism leaders and representatives of the hospitality industry.

Conversely, the latest refinement of the February figures showed even more of a drop year-over-year. The July report from the Tax Collector’s Office says collections in February of this year were down $9,034.68, compared to the figure for February 2016. The June report put the decline at $8,850.30.

Staff of the Tax Collector’s Office has explained that in an effort to meet the TDT monthly reporting deadline, entities that collect the tax sometimes make rough estimates that they know they will be able to clarify later.

A chart shows the amounts of Tourist Development Tax collected so far this year by location. Image courtesy Tax Collector’s Office

Siesta Key continues to be the leader among locations in its reporting of collections, the latest figures show. Through May, Siesta entities had turned over to the Tax Collector’s Office $5,048,579.68 in TDT revenue; that represented 32.34% of the total for this fiscal year. The City of Sarasota was in second place again, with $4,675,979.45, or 29.95% of the total.

As for all those new hotels …

Just last week, Visit Sarasota County (VSC) reported that, thanks to construction underway or just completed, 1,112 new hotel rooms will be added to Sarasota County’s accommodations offerings within a two-year span. “The majority of [them] will be located in the downtown center of Sarasota within walking distance of restaurants, Sarasota Bay, and arts and cultural offerings,” a news release noted.

The Zota Beach Resort has opened on Longboat Key. Image courtesy Visit Sarasota County

“We have not had this many new hotels open in such a short span of time in more than a decade,” Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota, pointed out in the release. “With expanded sporting events, cultural offerings and meetings, there is a demand for more hotel rooms. I am optimistic that our expanded sales efforts during the past several years will keep these hotels full year-round,” Haley continued in the release. “VSC has initiated a robust plan to aggressively market these new and existing rooms in inventory.”

Having opened on July 28, the 255-room Westin Sarasota brings 26,000 square feet of upscale meeting space and a rooftop pool and bar area to Sarasota, the release noted. The Westin Sarasota joins the recently opened Zota on Longboat Key, which has 187 rooms, along with approximately 5,000 square feet of meeting space designed for corporate retreats and programs, the release added.

Art Ovation Hotel — an Autograph Collection by Marriott — is scheduled to open a 162-room property with two suites and several on-site restaurants in November, the release continued, and in early 2018, The Embassy Suites by Hilton will open a 19-floor property on North Tamiami Trail, offering 180 suites.

Carlisle Inn, in the heart of Pinecraft — the Amish and Mennonite community within the City of Sarasota — will open late this year with nearly 100 rooms and 4,000 square feet of meeting space, the release added.

A rendering shows how the new Embassy Suites will look in downtown Sarasota. Image courtesy Visit Sarasota County

Finally, The Sarasota Modern: A Tribune Portfolio Hotel, which will have 89 rooms, is slated to open in 2018 “in the trendy Rosemary District of downtown,” the release said.

These additional hotels join the 139-room Aloft Sarasota, which opened in downtown Sarasota in early 2016. “The Aloft offers 550 square feet of flexible Sarasota meeting space,” the release noted.

Even with the new hotels opening, Hobeck Bates told the News Leader this week, occupancy grew by 1.1% in June, to 71.7%, and the average hotel room rate climbed by 6.9%, to $165.09.