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Tourist tax collection sets record; outlook looks positive for 2020

was written by , 2019-11-27 12:26:35

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Brevard County has set a record for tourist tax collections in the recently ended budget year, and is looking for another strong year ahead.

That will help pay for everything from increased tourism marketing to bigger, better beaches and more tourism-related capital projects.

Newly released data shows that the county collected $16.02 million from its 5% Tourist Development Tax on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals for the 2018-19 budget year that ended Sept. 30. The total collections exceeded what the Space Coast Office of Tourism had predicted at the beginning of the budget year by a razor-thin $1,113.

The total $16.02 million was a one-year record, and was 2.8% above the previous record of $15.58 million collected in the 2017-18 budget year.

The Space Coast Office of Tourism is projecting a 3.6% increase in the tourism tax for the 2019-20 budget year that began Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30, 2020, with $16.60 million in tax collections projected.

The tax pays for the operations of the Office of Tourism. The largest share of the money — 47% — is targeted for promotion and advertising of Space Coast tourism in an effort to attract more tourists.

Here is how the rest of the money is allocated: 25% for beach improvement, 14% for capital facilities, 5% for the Brevard Zoo, 4% for cultural events, 3% for Space Coast Stadium and 2% for visitor information centers.

Office of Tourism Executive Director Peter Cranis said the tourist tax collection hit the projections in 2018-19, in spite of Hurricane Dorian in September. Hotel business dropped as the storm was approaching, and a mandatory evacuation of the beachside temporarily closed a number of hotels. It didn’t help that Dorian was affecting the Space Coast during Labor Day weekend, typically a strong period for tourism. Dorian eventually passed east of the Florida coast.

As a result, September 2019 Brevard tourist tax collection numbers were down 7.3% from the figures for September 2018.

“We came in almost exactly on budget” for the budget year, “which is quite an accomplishment, considering Dorian caused us to be over $70,000 short of the prior September,” as well as $141,968 short of projection, Cranis said. “To think, if we hadn’t had that storm, we would have ended up over $140,000 ahead of our budget. Dorian ate up that overage, but I’m just happy we didn’t have a direct hit. That could have been devastating.”

“And I’m not going to complain about being 2.8% ahead of prior year, which is good, steady growth,” Cranis added.

Cranis said he is hoping the tax collection growth continues in the current budget year, and meets of exceeds projection of a 3.6% increase.

“We factored all the new hotel inventory coming online into that projection,” Cranis said. “So, hopefully, we will be fortunate with no storm hits next year.”

Brevard County has 9,548 hotel and motel rooms, according to data compiled by the Office of Tourism, with 2,238 more rooms expected to go online by the end of 2022 from the construction of new hotels, a 23.4% increase.

Cranis said the current budget year is starting strong, with room occupancy rates for October up 13.4% from the previous October, according to data released by the hotel industry tracking company STR Inc.

At the same time time, the average daily hotel room of $108.29 was up 2.2% in October, compared with October 2018, when it was $105.91.

Those figures combined to give Space Coast hotels a 16.0% increase in a widely watched hotel industry economic indicator called revenue per available room, or RevPar.

“It looks like October was a good rebound from September, which was a tough month,” Cranis said. “October looked like it was relatively strong.”

After Dorian, the Office of Tourism implemented a special “Our Coast Is Clear” marketing campaign to assure potential tourists that the Space Coast escaped the brunt of Dorian. The Office of Tourism spent about $200,000 during September and October on that campaign.

Local hotel officials say early indications are that the coming year will be strong.

“We’re looking really strong for 2020, said Puneet “P.K.” Kapur, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Palm Bay. Kapur is a former chair of the advisory Brevard County Tourist Development Council, and will be rejoining that board in January.

Tourist Development Council member Bob Baugher also is optimistic about the Space Coast tourism sector. Baugher’s company owns three hotels with a total of 412 rooms in the Cape Canaveral/Cocoa Beach area, and is part of a partnership building two more in Cape Canaveral with a total of 302 rooms.

“Everything is good,” Baugher said, with a strong cruise market out of Port Canaveral helping the tourism sector, and Brevard’s beaches a perennial draw for tourists.

Among the tourists here for Thanksgiving weekend are California residents Mini Kang and Christopher Roach, with their children, Ellie and Jojo.

Roach said the family enjoys coming to the Space Coast for vacations, especially for the beaches, which they find quiet, relaxing and not overcrowded, compared with California beaches.

The big Space Coast tourism draw other than beaches, Port Canaveral, is the world’s second-busiest cruise port, behind Miami, and will be getting several new mega-ships in the next few years.

Among them will be the Carnival Mardi Gras, which will be the largest in the Carnival fleet, and the first North American-based cruise ship to be powered by liquefied natural gas. The Mardi Gras will have a double-occupancy capacity of 5,282 passengers, full capacity of 6,630 passengers and a crew of 1,745. It will be based at Port Canaveral starting in October 2020.

Baugher’s concern is that “we are going lose our way in marketing.” He said the Office of Tourism must continue to focus on heavily promoting the Space Coast to potential tourists.

The 5% Tourism Development Tax is collected at hotels, motels and recreational vehicle parks, as well as for short-term rentals of private homes and condos.  

Tim Shortt contributed to this report.

Dave Berman is government editor at FLORIDA TODAY.

Contact Berman at 321-242-3649

or [email protected]

Twitter: @bydaveberman

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