CLEARWATER — For the first time in history, Pinellas County’s tourist development tax collections have topped $9 million in a single month.
In March, the tax collector’s office took in $9.57 million in bed tax, officially known as tourist development tax money — a 7.3 percent increase over the same month last year.
“These tax dollars are a win for our local economy in Pinellas County,” said Tax Collector Charles Thomas. “Our tourist development tax team is dedicated to collecting every possible dollar owed, and that effort is paying off big time.”
Pinellas collects a 6 percent tax on accommodations rented for six months or less. The majority, 60 percent, goes to Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, which is a department of county government and the official tourism marketing and management organization.
The remaining 40 percent pays for beach improvements and nourishment projects, and capital projects that benefit tourism. These projects include sports facilities, museums, aquariums and other facilities, as specified by state statute.
During the first six months of fiscal year 2019, which began in October, nearly $32.9 million has been collected, a 3.94 percent increase over 2018.
The year began on a negative note with just over $3.55 million collected in October, a 7.95 percent decrease from last year. Since that time, tourism has rebounded with a 1.6 percent increase in collections reported in November, 1.08 percent more in December, 7.5 percent in January, 7.27 percent in February, leading up to March, which typically brings in the most bed tax money.
Collections from hotels brought in the most money in March, $5.4 million, followed by property management at $2.34 million, $802,000 from motels and $600,000 from condominiums.
The city of Clearwater topped the chart with $3 million in bed tax collected, which accounted for 31.5 percent of the total. Miscellaneous-other brought in the second highest total, $2.7 million.
St. Pete Beach-Tierra Verde came in third with $1.4 million, followed by $1.12 million from St. Petersburg, $472,000 from Treasure Island, $185,000 from Madeira Beach and $168,000 from Oldsmar-Safety Harbor.
The Redingtons, North Redington Beach, Redington Beach and Redington Shores, brought in $156,000, with another $135,000 collected in Indian Rocks Beach, $116,000 in Palm Harbor, $102,000 in Indian Shores, $90,700 in Dunedin, $55,700 in Tarpon Springs and $49,600 in Belleair.
Deputy Tax Collector Andrea DiFonte explained that the miscellaneous-other category includes any TDT account that has properties in more than one municipality. An example might be a property management company with properties located in more than one city, she said.
The miscellaneous-other category also applies to travel companies. Pinellas County became the first in the state to make an agreement with Airbnb for collection of tourist development tax. In 2018, agreements were made with TripAdvisor and Expedia's subsidiaries — VRBO.com, FlipKey.com,
During the May 15, Tourist Development Council meeting, interim president and CEO Paul Sacco reported that 3,166, or 0.6 percent, more rooms had been sold in March 2019 compared to 2018. The average daily rate was up 4.1 percent, going from $202 in 2018 to $210 this year. Revenue per available room was up 5.5 percent, increasing from $177.79 in March 2018 to $187.58 in 2019.
Year to date, rooms sold is up 2 percent, average daily rate is 3.4 percent higher and revenue per available room is up 6.7 percent.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced May 15 that the state had broken an all-time record for visitation during the first quarter of 2019 with 35.7 million people visiting from January to March.
“An all-time record quarter of visitation is exciting news for the entire state,” DeSantis said. “As we work to diversify Florida’s economy, it is critical that we keep visitation to Florida, and the revenue it generates, healthy and robust.”
The annual economic impact of tourism in Pinellas is more than $10.3 billion, according to information from Visit St. Pete-Clearwater. Tourism employs one in 10 people in the county.