By Beth N. Gray
Smiles are in vogue at the Hernando County Tourism Bureau and among staffers at the agency's main office and two visitor centers.
"We finally broke $1 million," bureau manager Tammy Heon said, referring to receipts from the tourist development tax, or "bed tax," for the annual period ending Sept. 30.
Receipts totaled $1,055,330.80 from the county's 5 percent tax on accommodations at motels, hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and other overnight providers. The total is up from $940,763 the previous year, an increase of more than 12 percent.
The numbers reveal 69 consecutive months of month-over-month increases, Heon said.
The tax revenue pays for the visitor bureau budget, including salaries, office rent, advertising and grants awarded to other organizations to sponsor events that draw tourists and visitors to the county.
"We get no other funding," Heon said. The increased revenue means, "I can spend more money on advertising and marketing, so we can bring more visitors next year."
Hernando County has approximately 1,000 overnight rooms, including the "smaller moms-and-pops," Heon said. STR Resource, a national hotel industry data service, counts 900 rooms at 11 "large" motels in the county. More than half are in the Brooksville-Spring Hill area, with the remainder near the U.S. 301 interchange with Interstate 75 at Ridge Manor.
The county's highest room occupancy rate was in March — the traditional high point — at 79.8 percent, according to the bureau. The lowest occupancy rate was in August at 63.9 percent.
"We had a lot of rain in August, and we didn't have the best scalloping season," Heon said, "but (the occupancy rate) was up 2.7 percent over last March."
The bureau staffs visitor centers at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park and adjacent to Interstate 75 in Ridge Manor. The main office is in the Airport Industrial Park.
Contact Beth Gray at email@example.com.