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Red Tide or not, Pinellas County confident it will reach record tourism tax dollars

A wave hits Tressie Forbush, right, and sister Layla Forbush, 6, (both) of East End, Arkansas, during in incoming tide while visiting Indian Rocks Beach in July 2018. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times)
A wave hits Tressie Forbush, right, and sister Layla Forbush, 6, (both) of East End, Arkansas, during in incoming tide while visiting Indian Rocks Beach in July 2018. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times)
Published Aug. 20, 2018

Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater, Pinellas County's tourism arm, is on par to surpass the $54.7 million it collected in bed tax money last fiscal year. Even if a bout of Red Tide hits the beaches hard.

It would be the highest amount of money the county has ever collected from visitors, who are taxed 6 percent on their overnight stays. The county has trended up in bed tax collections for last five years, but has posted especially strong numbers so far in 2018.

"We are pacing pretty well above," said Leroy Bridges, the tourism department's vice president of digital and communications. "One of the challenges is not taking this success for granted to some degree."

The county reported that 80 of the last 82 months have had an increase in the tourism tax income. The comparative months that didn't have an increase were during periods with large events that make the benchmarks difficult to surpass — August 2012's Republican National Convection and January 2017's National College Football Championship.

In June, the county pulled in just over $5.4 million in bed tax dollars, which was the sixth out of the last nine months to have double-digit year-over-year growth at 14.71 percent.

The average daily room rate bumped up nearly $8, or nearly 6 percent, while occupancy rose almost 5 percent.

While new hotels have opened and gained vacationer recognition, Bridges said the uptick in average daily rate shows that Pinellas is "getting more for the same product" by building on the destination and its brand.

Visit St. Pete-Clearwater does not have the numbers for July yet, but Bridges said it seemed like another solid month.

Visit Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County's tourism agency and non-profit, has had high points this year, too. In March, it collected more than $4 million in one month for the first time ever. In June, visitors paid more than $2.4 million, up 8 percent from the year before.

The last nine out of 10 months during this fiscal year marked record breaking numbers in Hillsborough, too. Already, Visit Tampa Bay has collected $29.1 million, which is nearly as much as collected in all of 2016.

Previous coverage: Hillsborough bed tax collections set monthly record (again)

With three months left to be tabulated in the Pinellas County fiscal year — July, August and September — and about $7.8 million needed to match last year's income, Bridges said he's confident the county will easily surpass last year's numbers.

In the last three months of the fiscal year in 2017, Pinellas County pulled in nearly $12 million in bed tax dollars.

That means even if Red Tide were to suddenly hit Pinellas and deter visitors from Tampa Bay beaches, the county would still likely be ahead in its bed tax earnings.

Previous coverage: Pinellas and Hillsborough bring in $13 million in bed taxes during peak travel month

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Bridges is hopeful Red Tide won't continue to creep up north. Instead, he's keeping his attention on another set of numbers that will come out in January.

"We've got our eye on a calendar-year number," he said, without being specific. "It's a big one."

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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