Pinellas County collected its highest tourism development tax revenue ever for the month of June, signaling another strong month in a historic year for tourism in Tampa Bay.
The $8.273 million in the tourism development tax is a 94 percent increase from June last year - when the pandemic stalled nearly all travel - and a 46 percent increase from June 2019, according to Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the county’s tourism agency.
“Every month kind of shocks me because when we go back and look at it versus 2019, it’s beating a record year, and it’s not by a couple of points,” said Steve Hayes, CEO and President of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. “It’s larger percentages.”
The revenue climb furthers a record shattering tourism rebound that has helped businesses recover from the pandemic shutdown. Santiago C. Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, called April 2021 “the strongest April that we’ve ever had in the history of this destination.” Pinellas County also collected 30 percent more in bed taxes in May this year compared to May 2019.
To date, Pinellas bed tax collections this year are up 43 percent compared to last year, and nearly 10 percent more than in 2019, county records show.
Hayes said he suspects the jump stems from three main factors: pent-up demand from pandemic shutdowns last summer, a window of time for families to travel during school break and tourists who normally would book a cruise or a trip to the Caribbean but opted out due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“If I’m in Atlanta and I want to get away, and maybe I used to take a cruise of seven days, but I can’t do that now,” said Hayes. “But I will still want to get to the beach, then Florida is a quick flight or drive down. And so I think that element is still coming into play.”
This is what Hayes said propelled tourists to book more hotel rooms this June than in 2019, even though the costs have increased.
The July tourism numbers will be released in about a month, Hayes said, and they will likely be similar to June. Average daily rates outpaced records from 2019, along with the number of visitors. The growth came despite a number of hurdles - Hurricane Elsa, Red Tide and the COVID-19 delta variant are a few that made national headlines.
“What we haven’t seen is people (canceling), like we did in 2018, where you saw people canceling trips across the board,” Hayes said of Red Tide. “What we found is in talking to our hotel partners through the process, is they were calling and asking, ‘well I’m coming in next week, what’s it like at the beach?’”
Visit St. Pete/Clearwater promoted a webpage that showed daily beach conditions throughout Pinellas County, a tool he said has helped many tourists.
At a Pinellas County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Kelli Levy, director of public works, outlined Red Tide impacts across Pinellas. County officials collected 1,823 tons of dead sea life and debris. Commissioners were hopeful about receiving $2.1 million in state reimbursements from cleanup efforts.
“There was a period of time where people were staying for shorter periods of time,” Levy said about tourists. “But then there was someone right behind them to take on that reservation.”
Visit St. Pete/Clearwater officials are monitoring how the COVID-19 delta variant may affect national tourism trends into the fall. They will adjust to what they hear locally, Hayes said.
Pinellas County has the highest number of COVID-positive hospital patients this month than at any other point during the pandemic. While COVID-19 deaths in Florida are less than half of what they were during the peak of the pandemic, they have tripled in four weeks, as of Aug. 5.
So far, hotels across Pinellas County aren’t experiencing widespread cancellations, Hayes said.
“As a traveler, it’s ‘what do you feel safe doing?’ There’s some people (who will say) ‘I’m traveling no matter what,’ and there’s ones that are like, ‘you know what, nah, I’m going to put a pause,’” he said. “And so what we’re doing is watching all of that, and then we’ll make adjustments if we see it going in a very negative direction.”