TAMPA — Hillsborough County’s tourism officials thought conservatively when they budgeted at the outset of 2021. Turns out, they could have gone for robust.
The county ended the 2021 fiscal year with a bang, collecting $3.3 million in tourist taxes in September, topping by more than 15 percent the pre-pandemic receipts from September 2019 — the first month the county began collecting its 6 percent sales tax on overnight accommodations.
It capped a fiscal year in which the county’s tourist tax collection grew to $36.9 million, beating the 2019 record year of $35.4 million and exceeding the pandemic-influenced year of 2020 when the county took in $30.4 million.
“The rebound for us — thank goodness — was very strong,” said assistant Hillsborough County administrator Ron Barton.
In anticipation of reduced revenue, the Tourist Development Council set a 2021 budget that delayed some planned capital spending and dipped into reserves to bolster marketing.
Over the past year, the county used half the tax proceeds to contribute to Visit Tampa Bay, the Super Bowl 55 Host Committee, the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and the county’s Tournament Sportsplex. The council budgeted $11 million in expected revenue for those accounts, but ended up collecting more than $17.57 million.
The surplus will help rebuild the council’s reserve account after it authorized spending $4 million additionally for Visit Tampa Bay’s extra marketing efforts during the pandemic.
Bob Morrison, executive director of the Hillsborough County Hotel & Motel Association, noted the value of that marketing investment and recounted how the council acted during a previous recession.
“We let the monsoon hit us and we didn’t even open an umbrella. This time we didn’t make that mistake,” he said.
Besides Super Bowl 55, the county’s tourism activity was aided by Wrestlemania at Raymond James Stadium in April, convention business that relocated from other places, and amateur and youth sports competitions at the Tournament Sportsplex on East Columbus Avenue.
Hotel occupancy rates for the fourth quarter stood at 65.5 percent, a significant jump over 2020, but below the 67.8 percent in 2019. Room rates were higher in 2021 and revenue per room was $77.40 this year compared to $73.17 in the final quarter of 2019, according to national research firm Smith Travel Research.
Santiago C. Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa, noted nearly 2,500 additional hotel rooms opened in Hillsborough County since 2019.
“There is a lot more money coming in, but it matches the (hotel) inventory we’ve added in our county,” he said.
One-third of the overall tourist tax collections finance the county-owned sports facilities — Raymond James Stadium, Amalie Arena and George M. Steinbrenner Field. The final portion, known as the sixth cent, pays for marketing and capital spending on attractions including the ongoing expansion of the Tampa Convention Center.