Pinellas and Hillsborough counties posted record-breaking bed tax collections over a peak tourism period, raking in a combined $13 million in March.
It's the first time Hillsborough collected more than $4 million during this period, a new benchmark for Visit Tampa Bay, the tourism nonprofit that markets the area. The county also passed a major bed tax threshold at the end of last year making it eligible to collect more in bad taxes in the future pending the county's approval.
"With three major festivals, large conventions every week, and fantastic weather all month, March is always our busiest time for visitors," said Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada. "This year, however, simply blew the doors off even our most successful months up to now."
The $4.08 million collected from visitors in Hillsborough County in March is 12.4 percent higher than it was the year before. Pinellas' record breaking month — collecting $8.9 million — was 14.2 percent increase from the year before.
Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater CEO David Downing said the county beat its projected revenue by nearly $1 million.
"This was not completely unexpected," he said. "Tourism has been robust."
The bed taxes are collected during hotel or other short-term stays. Once a Florida county has collected more than $30 million from the 5 percent tax over the course of one year, it is eligible to begin collecting 6 percent. Hillsborough reported $32.4 million in bed taxes for 2017.
The Board of County Commissions in Hillsborough needs to approve the increase. Ron Barton, a Hillsborough County administrator said on Thursday there was no time line or scheduled date for the board to discuss the uptick.
A portion of the sixth penny added to the tourism tax could be one of the funding sources used by Hillsborough County to pay for a new Rays ballpark in Ybor City.
In Pinellas, Downing said the bed tax takes care of beach nourishment costs and paid for the nearly $42 million the county committed for the Blue Jays Stadium in Dunedin.
"One thing we are acutely sensitive to is the volume of tourists we bring in," Downing said. "It's about the quality of experience and the greater economic impact, not just more people."
Contact Sara DiNatale at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @sara_dinatale.