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Record-setting months result in record-setting year for Pinellas tourist tax revenue

More than ever, tourists were drawn to the tranquil beaches of Pinellas County in the fiscal year that ended in September.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

More than ever, tourists were drawn to the tranquil beaches of Pinellas County in the fiscal year that ended in September.

CLEARWATER — Months of record bed-tax collections in Pinellas add up to a record-setting year for the county's tourist development tax.

Pinellas County collected $28.7 million in tourist tax revenue during fiscal year 2011, the county's Tourist Development Council announced at Wednesday's monthly meeting. The fiscal year started in October 2011 and ended in September 2012.

The tax is a 5 percent surcharge tacked onto the bill of every accommodation rented out for less than six months. This year's record is 9 percent more than the previous record: $26.4 million collected in 2008.

The record year ended on another record month: Pinellas collected $1.7 million in tourist tax in September 2012, which is 14 percent more than the same month last year. It's also the county's best September on record.

"If anyone would like to clap," said David Downing, deputy director of Pinellas' tourism agency, Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, "I think this would be an appropriate time."

It surprised tourism officials that September, a traditionally slow month for visitors, set another record. No one expected business to remain so strong after the Republican National Convention was held in Tampa in August.

"(September) was the exclamation point at the end of the year," Downing said.

Tourism officials believe the success of Pinellas tourism is owed to the improvement in the economy. Domestic travelers have finally started to take vacations again, Downing said. That, and the continued strength of European visitors, have helped fuel record numbers for Pinellas tourism this past fiscal year.

A consultant also told the TDC that Hurricane Sandy, which slammed into New York at the end of October, has so far had no discernible effect on tourism from that area.

New York is one of the key domestic markets for Pinellas tourism, and the TDC specifically targets the area with an annual ad campaign.

"To date, we have seen virtually no impact at all," said Walter Klages of Research Data Services, who compiles visitor data for the TDC. "We have not found cancellations of any significance so far."

Klages warned that there were early signs of a softening of winter travel from New York, but said it was too early to know for sure.

In fact, in September, the New York area rose to become the No. 2 domestic market for Pinellas tourism after placing third last year. No. 1 is Tampa-St. Petersburg itself. The old No. 2 fell to No. 3: Orlando.

Why are two of Pinellas' top domestic markets both within Florida? Officials said that when bay area and Orlando residents want to hit the beaches for the weekend, they choose Pinellas' beaches.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404.

Record-setting months result in record-setting year for Pinellas tourist tax revenue 11/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 9:36pm]
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