TAMPA — The tourism boom continues unabated in Pinellas County, setting the stage for what could be another record year of tourist development bed tax collections.
First, the latest good news: Pinellas collected $2.86 million in July, the best July ever. That's a 9 percent increase, or $247,000 more than the $2.6 million from July 2012.
A successful July 2013 marked 24 straight months of tourist tax growth. In other words, for 24 months in a row, the amount collected beat what was earned the same month the year before.
All this means Pinellas could enjoy a second straight year of record bed tax receipts. In the first 10 months of fiscal year 2013, Pinellas has collected nearly $28 million. That's very close to the all-time collection record of $28.75 million in fiscal year 2012. In fact, Pinellas need only garner $1.66 million in the last two months to set a new record.
But the county will need to do it without the Republican National Convention, a massive event that boosted last year's August 2012 numbers.
David Downing, the deputy director of Pinellas tourism agency Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, credited two factors for the county's ongoing tourism boom: the economic recovery — or the perception of a recovery — freeing up pent-up demand for travel; and summer is turning into a kind of second tourism season for Pinellas County, after the peak winter period.
For years, hoteliers kept rates low just to attract summer business. That's no longer the case. It helps that Pinellas focused its summer marketing to get locals to hit the beaches. The top feeder market in July was the Orlando region. Tampa Bay was second.
"When we see demand like this in what has traditionally been a softer demand time of year," Downing said, "that gives us an indication that the product itself, the destination itself, is growing. It's growing because more people are seeing us at more times of the year than before."
Across the bay, Hillsborough County is seeing a slight dip in tourist bed tax collections this past summer. The county collected about $1.5 million in tourist development tax in July. But that was a 4 percent, or $64,000, drop from July 2012.
The first 10 months of Hillsborough's fiscal year 2013 bed tax collections are still running 3 percent above last fiscal year's numbers, however. The Tampa side of the bay has collected $19.75 million so far in fiscal year 2013. That's just $1.28 million away from matching the $21 million Hillsborough garnered in fiscal year 2012.
In Pinellas and Hillsborough, the tourist development tax is a 5 percent surcharge tacked on to the bill of every hotel room and short-term rental to promote tourism.