With coronavirus outbreak, March tourist tax declines 35%

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Surfing into summer Visitors to the website for the Compass Anna Maria Sound hotel, a boutique hotel from Margaritaville under construction at the west end of Perico Island, now find a robust website where bookings can be made beginning in mid-July. The company has not announced grand-opening details or dates. The website, www.compasshotel.com/annamariasound, boasts, “Paradise has a New Set of Coordinates” and says Compass, along with the Floridays Woodfire Grill & Bar, is “Coming Soon!” Islander Screenshot

A lot of heads didn’t make it to a lot of beds when the outbreak of the novel coronavirus crashed spring break 2020.

March overnight stays in Manatee County grossed about $1.78 million in bed taxes. The collection was down 34.59% from March 2019, revealing the early impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on local tourism.

In March 2019, the county generated about $2.72 million in bed taxes, officially known as the tourist development tax. The tax is the 5% collected on overnight rentals of six months or less.

About 24.41% of the March tax collected, $435,283, was generated in Holmes Beach, according to the Manatee County Tax Collector’s report.

The tax collected from Anna Maria was $283,572, about 15.91% of the total.

Bradenton Beach produced about 8.17% of the tax collected — $145,589.

Some more numbers for March:

  • Unincorporated Manatee County, $565,972, 31.74%.
  • Bradenton, $121,164, 6.8%.
  • Longboat Key, $222,362, 12.47%
  • Palmetto, $8,962, 0.5%.

The collection fee or commission on the tax is 3%, so the net collection for the Manatee County Tourist Development Council in March was $1,729,269.

The numbers showed $8,713,152 collected between the beginning of the fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2019, and March 31.

The tax revenues must be used to boost and develop tourism, including funding for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Bradenton Area Convention Center and tourism-related entities such as Realize Bradenton and the Pittsburgh Pirates, as well as supporting projects, such as island beach renourishment and construction of the new Anna Maria City Pier.

The TDC recommends a budget, which is decided by the county commission.

The April numbers will be released in early June and are expected to be far lower than the numbers posted for April 2019, when gross collections were $1,490.453.

While the March numbers show the general impact of COVID-19 on travel and tourism, the April numbers will show the impact of executive orders restricting vacation rentals and implementing “safer-at-home” guidance.

The rental restrictions went into effect March 27, continued throughout April and, as of Islander press time May 11, remained in effect. The order, applicable to vacation rentals of less than 30 days, prohibits new reservations as well as check-ins by new guests.

The order did not shut down nightly stays at hotels, motels, resorts and timeshares.

A petition circulating on Change.org demands the governor reconsider the restrictions. As of May 11, more than 27,000 people had signed the petition launched by the Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association.

The petition states, “The blanket ban on short-term vacation rentals in the state of Florida, regardless of where they are geographically located or where the visitor in question is coming from, continues to cause a significant negative economic impact. This affects property owners, property managers, support staff and maintenance personnel whose small businesses often make up the backbone of their local communities and provide employment to a large percentage of Florida’s population.”

The petition also questions the fairness of closing vacation rental operations while hotels, resorts and timeshares continue to operate.

A report on the impact of COVID-19 on Florida Tourism prepared by Downs & St. Germain Research for Destinations Florida, a statewide association serving local tourism organizations, identified vacation rental homes as the state’s largest tourism business, followed by hotels and motels, then bars and restaurants, retail, arts and culture, attractions, sports, concerts and festivals and real estate.

The statewide analysis of tourism-related businesses found revenues down 49% in mid-March and 82% in mid-April.

Average bookings 30 days out were down 63% in mid-March and 80% in mid-April.

Also, an estimated 72% of tourism-related businesses in the state applied for financial stimulus money from the government. As of April 29, 17% of the applications had received financial assistance.

“We knew the numbers for April would look worse than the numbers from March as our state began to institute closures and stricter guidelines as part of its pandemic response,” said Robert Skrob, executive director for Destinations Florida.

“Now, more than ever, we will need the funds collected for tourism promotion through local tourism taxes to promote our destinations to potential visitors,” he continued.

March resort tax collections

2014: $1,701,752

2015: $1,767,720

2016: $1,957,709

2017: $1,968,698

2018: $2,434,737

2019: $2,725,570

2020: $1,782,752

Source: Manatee County Tax Collector