Visit Sarasota County staff talks of marketing campaigns and sporting events to keep visitors coming
On the Friday morning before Memorial Day in 2011, Dr. Stephen Leatherman — aka Dr. Beach — proclaimed Siesta Public Beach No. 1 on his Top Ten Beaches list for the United States.
And tourism entered a new “boom phase,” not just on Siesta Key but throughout Sarasota County. That was reflected in collections of the county’s Tourist Development Tax (TDT). Revenue jumped about 19 percent, from a total of $9,687,623 in the 2010 fiscal year (which began Oct. 1, 2009) to $11,510,399 in the 2011 fiscal year, Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office data shows.
A comparison of TDT collections just for the last four months of the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years — June through September — showed a spike of almost 38 percent year-over-year.
The boom continued through the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 fiscal years as the economy recovered from the Great Recession. The only “blip” was a 7-percent dip in April 2013 compared to April 2012.
At the end of the 2014 fiscal year, TDT revenue was up 13.7 percent from the 2013 fiscal year, the Tax Collector’s Office records show.
In the 2015 fiscal year, the TDT revenue total surpassed the $19-million mark, ending with $19,059,304.54, an increase of more than 12 percent from FY14.
Visit Sarasota County President Virginia Haley cautioned the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) over the past couple of years that the tourism boom was bound to ebb at some point. It finally did so, just this spring. And, once again, April was the month, based on preliminary reporting by the Tax Collector’s Office. April brought in $1,781,839.28 in TDT revenue, down $39,356.98 compared to the total for April 2015. (Because all of the entities that collect the tax have to file their reports by a certain time each month, Tax Collector’s Office staff has explained, preliminary figures may be updated later.)
What 2013 and 2016 have in common is that Easter came early. It was on March 31 in 2013 and on March 27 this year. Traditionally, Visit Sarasota County staff and hospitality businesses say Easter marks the end of the peak tourist season. Therefore, the May TDT total may offer more insight into whether any trend is underway.
Regardless of the April decline, total TDT revenue was up by $609,343.92 so far this fiscal year, compared to the same period in 2015-16.
Once again, Siesta Key accounted for the top percentage of collections among all the locations the Tax Collector’s Office compares. Through April, the TDT revenue Siesta businesses pulled in represented 31.36 percent of the TDT total. The city of Sarasota was in second place with 29.03 percent.
Keeping those tourists coming
Each year, Visit Sarasota County staff invests in a variety of campaigns to keep visitors coming to the county, Haley has reported to the Tourist Development Council (TDC) and the County Commission. During her appearance before the TDC members at their June 16 meeting, she discussed some of her office’s recent marketing strategies.
One that was “very successful,” she began, was focused on residents of Boston in November and December 2015 — following in the figurative footsteps of similar Visit Sarasota County initiatives in New York and Chicago. The Boston campaign employed a variety of media, Haley said, but “a lot of it was digital.”
JetBlue’s direct service to Sarasota from Boston was a factor in the selection of that city, she explained, along with knowledge of the two previously “horrible winters” in Boston.
The goal was to provide what she referenced as “layers” of marketing initiatives, so members of the public would hear and see enticements about travel to Sarasota from the time they awoke until the time they went to bed.
“We wound up with a very successful television campaign,” Haley noted, as well as continuation of a strong partnership Visit Sarasota County has established with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Haley added that her organization also found “great, great opportunities” in marketing through The Weather Channel and TripAdvisor.
And while she conceded that it is “a little bit of a creepy effort,” she explained that Visit Sarasota County used new cellphone-tracking technology to document the arrival in Sarasota of people who had viewed the media campaign, including “how long [it took] from the time [they] were served the ad” to when they showed up.
Yet another campaign, conducted each June, is Savor Sarasota, she pointed out. Dining establishments offer special reduced-price menus at lunch and dinner. More restaurants than ever participated this year — 67 — and about 45 of them continued Savor Sarasota after the regular two-week period, she added. Restaurateurs had reported that this “may have been the best [Savor Sarasota] ever,” Haley told the TDC members.
Another facet of Visit Sarasota County’s ongoing efforts to increase tourism is sporting events. Rob Wells, sports director for the organization, reported to the TDC this month that although the community had hosted just one more such event so far this fiscal year (a total of 82) compared to the same period of the last fiscal year, the economic impact on the county was 43 percent higher: $56,086,663.74. Additionally, Visit Sarasota County documented a 37-percent hike in the number of participants — 62,446— and an 18-percent rise in room nights at lodgings in the county — 44,638.
Every dollar Visit Sarasota County is spending on marketing events this year is generating an economic impact on the county of $376.75, he pointed out, as well as $16.76 in sales tax and $2.21 in TDT revenue.
Among the events he highlighted were the Game Day USA Junior All-American Games held at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota over Thanksgiving weekend in 2015. That brought 300 youngsters ages 8 to 17 to the community, Wells said, and only one of them lives in the state of Florida.
This November, he continued, Junior All-American Games will host a girls fast pitch softball event at By-Pass Park in Venice.
The biggest event traditionally is the Sarasota Power Boat Grand Prix, which will be held on July 3, Wells noted. However, that is expected to be eclipsed next year by the World Rowing Championships, which is projected to bring more than 40,000 people to the area in early fall, he said. The international event will be at Nathan Benderson Park on Cattlemen Road near University Parkway.