Tourist tax collections still on record-setting pace, despite slight downtick in July

Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, pays a historic visit to Pinellas County’s Tourist Development Council Sept. 18. It was the first time ever an official from Hillsborough County-based Visit Tampa Bay had made a presentation to the Pinellas TDC.

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County hoteliers noted a slight decrease, 0.5%, in rooms sold in July, as compared to the same month last year, but with a 6.67% increase in tourist development tax collections for the month, everything is still looking good to set a new record.

Paul Sacco, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater interim president and CEO, presented the county’s tourism economic snapshot at the Tourist Development Council’s Sept. 18 meeting.

Although there was a slight decrease in rooms sold, the average daily rate was up 1.9% from $146.12 in July 2018 to $148.93 for the same month this year. Revenue per available room increased to $113.71, up 1.5%. Year-to-date rooms sold are up 2%, average daily rate is up 3.5% and revenue per available room is up 6.4%.

Tourist development tax, aka bed tax, collections totaled just over $5.893 million, a 6.67 percent increase over July 2018. Bed tax collections for fiscal year 2019, October-July, are about $55.62 million, up 6.05% compared the nearly $52.45 million collected over the same period last year.

County officials are hopeful that collections will gross at least $60 million this year, which would set a new record. In FY 2018, bed tax totaled about $59.7 million. There are two months left in FY 2019.

Tourist experts think the downturn in rooms sold in July may be attributed to red tide, which was not yet a problem in Pinellas at that time. They believe it is possible that in July 2018, local hoteliers benefited from hosting extra visitors that came from areas along the west coast that were affected by red tide.

Visit Tampa Bay

TDC members listened to a “historic” presentation from Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. According to Pinellas County Commission Chair and TDC Chair Karen Seel, the presentation was “historic” due to it being the first time anyone from Visit Tampa Bay had presented at a TDC meeting.

Santiago praised Pinellas County’s tourism industry and the work done by its marketing agency, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. He pointed out that Pinellas has the third highest amount of bed tax in the state. He also said he was grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Pinellas, adding that it was a “great partnership.”

He highlighted some of the differences between the two organizations. For example, Visit Tampa Bay is a private, nonprofit organization under contract with Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa to do marketing and to sell the convention center.

Visit Tampa Bay is governed by a 27-member board of directors and a group of subcommittees sets its goals. It also has a 50-member advisory board.

“We have lots of oversight to ensure our return on investment,” Santiago said.

Funding comes from tourist development tax revenue and private funding. Last year, Visit Tampa Bay received about $13 million in TDT money and another $2 million from private sources. Now that Hillsborough can levy a sixth cent in tourist tax, Visit Tampa Bay expects to receive about $15 million from TDT revenue next year plus another $3 million from private funding.

He showed several graphs illustrating the growth of tourism over the last six years, with hotel revenue increasing by 5% despite not adding many hotel rooms. He attributed the increase to a robust economy coupled with an aggressive marketing program. He said Visit Tampa Bay now augments its influx of visitors for conventions with more leisure travelers.

In 2018, visitor’s spent $4.2 million, sustaining 53,446 jobs, he said.

Seel thanked Santiago for the partnership with Pinellas County. She asked him how having a convention center benefited Visit Tampa Bay.

“It depends on the month and year,” he said.

Overall, he said, the convention center is the “foundation” for Hillsborough and Tampa’s tourism market. July is typically a slow month for Visit Tampa Bay and Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. Santiago said that was because all tourism markets were open for business throughout the United States. By booking large groups into the convention center, Visit Tampa Bay can boost its market during the lean months.

Capital project funding

TDC members unanimously approved staff’s recommendation for funding of three capital projects.

Tim Ramsberger, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater chief operation officer, said the projects had all scored more than the minimum of 700 points required to receive funding. Tampa Bay Watch requested $300,000. St. Petersburg Museum of History wants $2.8 million, and The Dali Museum requested $17.5 million.

TDC members requested that the money for The Dali Museum be concentrated as much as possible on the museum itself and not the parking expansion project.

The recommendations will now go to the Board of County Commissioners to approve. If approved, staff will negotiate with each applicant for a funding amount up-to an agreed upon limit. After negotiations, each agreement will go back to the County Commission for final approval.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.