Tourism agency looks to expand use of home share data

Steve Hayes, president and CEO of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, talks about the importance of understanding the county’s supply of accommodations during a Jan. 15 meeting.

CLEARWATER — Business is good for Pinellas County’s hoteliers, according to the latest information from Smith Travel Research.

Steve Hayes, new president and CEO for Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the county’s tourism marketing agency, presented the November Economic Snapshot at the Jan. 15 Tourist Development Council meeting.

Data from Smith Travel Research shows that the number of room nights sold increased by 5.2% in November, up to 405,549 compared to 385,478 in November 2018. The average daily rate was up by 4%, increasing from $125.71 last year to $130.77. The biggest jump, 8.8%, was in revenue per available room, going from $79 in 2018 to $85.96 in November 2019, which is the most among comparable markets around the state.

Year-to-date totals for 2019 show a 2.3% increase in room nights sold, a 2.9% increase in average daily rate and a 5.5% hike in revenue per available room.

Tourist Development Tax collections continue to grow with the county reporting $3.99 million in November. TD tax, aka bed tax, of 6% is collected on all accommodations rented for six months or less. November’s collection is up 15.52% compared to last year.

VSPC staff began reporting a new statistic in December using information from AirDNA. The goal is to collect the number of visitors staying at non-traditional lodging accommodations, such as a home listed on Airbnb.

The data collected by Smith Travel Research traditionally used to help track the health of the county’s tourism industry only shows a part of the picture. Those numbers mostly include larger hotel chains and a few others that voluntarily report to Smith Travel.

Staff knew the numbers weren’t inclusive since they don’t include smaller hotels and lodging made available by property management firms. The numbers also don’t include lodging in private homes, which is a growing industry, or other accommodations booked through Airbnb and other similar services.

Staff has begun a concerted effort to get a handle on room rentals that aren’t accounted for by Smith Travel Research.

Using AirDNA data, staff’s report shows another 109,996 room nights sold in the category of home share in November, which is a 19.8% increase from 91,800 for the same month in 2018.

TDC member Tony Satterfield, vice president of operations at Alden Suites in St. Pete Beach, pointed out that the home share numbers were about 28% compared to the numbers reported by Smith Travel for hotels, or about one in four.

Leroy Bridges, VSPC vice president, said the number was likely higher than it would be when thinking of traditional Airbnb rentals of rooms in homes versus the number one might find if including vacation rentals offered by property management companies.

TDC member Doreen Moore, owner/president of Travel Resort Services in Madeira Beach, confirmed that her company, which does property management, uses Airbnb to book rentals. Satterfield said the home share numbers would then probably include any of the condo or condo/hotels using Airbnb for booking.

Moore confirmed that most rental companies were using platforms like Airbnb, as well as people renting individual rooms in their homes.

The good news is that bookings that go through Airbnb pay bed taxes, thanks to an agreement made several years ago with the tax collector’s office.

Hayes said having more information would help VSPC understand the county’s supply of accommodations. He said it is easy to know how many hotels there are and the number of rooms they have, but number of other rentals, especially in private homes is difficult to collect.

“We’re just trying to get the big picture from the property management side,” he said. “We have less ability to get true home share data.”

Bridges said staff is looking at additional ways to better gather and report data of different accommodations.

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