BROOKSVILLE — State tourism officials — for obvious reasons — promote Florida as the Sunshine State, but the county’s tourism promoter was basking in its own glow earlier this month thanks to the strong Hernando County visitor numbers.
Visit Florida recently shared its 2016 analysis of how out-of-state visitors impacted Florida’s economy and Hernando County’s Adventure Coast.
It showed that out-of-state tourists spent enough money to contribute $111.43 in sales tax for every Hernando County household, according to Tammy Heon, the county’s manager of tourism development.
"That’s pretty significant,’’ she told County Commissioners. "I’m proud to share that with you.’’
In total for the fiscal year, visitors paid $8.2 million in sales taxes and $845,515 in tourist taxes to the county.
The tourist tax is paid by visitors staying overnight in hotels, motels and other short-term accommodations.
The county charges a 5 percent tourism tax, also known as the bed tax, which has been in place since 2014.
Heon didn’t have the Visit Florida numbers yet for 2017, but her own tracking showed double digit tax collection increases, with last year’s total at approximately $941,000. Her goal is to break $1 million for this year; numbers so far are up 15.7 percent over last year.
Other tourism statistics also improved, Heon said. They include the occupancy rates, the average daily rate and the revenue per available room.
That last metric is especially important and saw significant growth, 11.4 percent in 2016.
The increase means "visitors are staying longer and spending more money,’’ Heon said. "It’s good for everybody because not only does it mean our hoteliers are making more money, but also our restaurateurs and retail shops, and all of our local residents are saving money’’ through the sales tax contributions.
The talk about tourism turned to a discussion about the recent Brooksville Blueberry Festival, organized by John Lee, owner of Coney Island Drive Inn.
Heon said she spoke with people who attended the festival from all over Florida, and none had any complaints, unlike the previous state blueberry festivals held in Brooksville.
Wherever they came from, she said, they "were over the moon happy.’’
Commission Chairman Steve Champion reminded commissioners that Lee owns the festival trademark "and he wants to give it to us.’’
"Vendors made more money than they ever had, by tenfold," Champion said. "We have to figure out how to make it happen.’’
"We will work it out, figure it out. We’re going to make it happen,’’ she said. "We’re not going to lose our blueberries-in-Brooksville connection. We worked too hard to maintain it this year, and we owe John a great debt.’’
Heon also told commissioners about some upcoming events and initiatives.
In September, the county hosts the Florida Travel Writers, who will spend nearly a week in the area visiting attractions and tourism venues.
In March 2019, Hernando County hosts half of the Bike Florida Spring Tour.
About 600 bicycle enthusiasts are expected to attend, staying for three days in tents at Tom Varn Park and the Quarry in Brooksville. Each day, they will bike through different Hernando County areas and visit area businesses.
The economic impact could top $500,000, Heon said, noting it was a good return on investment. Snagging the event took just a couple of bicycle-centric conference trips, she said.
Other tourism development pushes include beefing up social media promotions, adding a Hernando County tourism app, updating the county parks brochure, producing new welcome packets and creating the first "Kegs, Casks and Corks" map to draw tourists to the growing number of wineries, distilleries and breweries opening in the county, Heon said.
Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.