Tourism taxes decline for third straight month in Sarasota

Editor & Publisher

The forecasts have come true.

For the third consecutive month, bed tax collections for Sarasota County have dropped over 2017.

The numbers are the empirical indication of the direct fiscal toll red tide has had on the tourism industry and area economy in general.

Last week, the bed tax collection figures showed that October of 2018 brought in just north of $1 million, 12 percent less than October 2017. The collections of tourism taxes fell 20 percent in August 2018 year over year, and 31 percent in September of this year, according to the Sarasota Tax Collector.

The tourist development tax is a 5 percent surcharge on all short-term rentals throughout the county.

The money is used to fund marketing the region nationally and internationally, beach maintenance, the arts and culture of the region, the rowing facility at Nathan Benderson Park as well as Ed Smith Stadium.

Part of the formula that has affected the collection is the fact that more hotel rooms now exist in Sarasota with the opening of facilities Downtown and that has a dampening effect on room rates, especially when visitation levels are also in decline or stay flat.

A positive indicators going forward are a recent diminishment in the red tide and red tide’s attendant negative repercussions.

Another positive factor is the cold weather and winter storms sweeping much of the country.


Selling Sarasota

For many in the tourism industry as well as restaurant owners and other business owners the drop in bed tax collections is particularly upsetting in tandem with the fact that Sarasota County recently voted to cut the percentage of the tax collected that it uses to promote and advertise the Sarasota region.

The commission decided it needs to shift revenue in coming years away from promotions to pay for infrastructure cost overruns at Ed Smith Stadium that the board says are mandated in its lease agreement with the Baltimore Orioles. The unfunded repairs amount to more than $13 million.

Those in the tourism industry oppose the shift in spending the bed tax, especially in light of the dampening on occupancy rates due to the red tide.

In Manatee County, the largest portion of bed tax revenue goes to marketing Manatee County. Manatee County’s bed tax revenue also fell in September and October of this year.

In Sarasota County, 34 percent of the collected tax is spent on beach maintenance and renourishment.  The sports stadium receives 16 percent, arts and culture receives 10 percent, the rowing facility 10 percent and advertising, marketing and promotion receives 30 percent.

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