Tourist tax fixing records during recent COVID outbreak in Polk County

LAKELAND – The focus on amateur athletics and outdoor tourism has helped drive record increases in tax revenue on beds according to Polk County Tourism & Sports Marketing.

Hoteliers in the rest of Florida, meanwhile, are expected to see a drop as business travelers cancel their trips due to the increase in Covid-19 cases.

“The overall level of tourism is down in the state, but many destinations from Tallahassee to the Keys have set records in the past six months,” said Jack Cormier, communications specialist at PCTSM. He added: “The key to Polk County has been a tripod approach and the sport remains the only tripod leg that still stands up to the storm.”

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According to agency director Mark Jackson, the county is expected to collect 15% more revenue this year than 2019 levels when the pandemic first hit.

In March of this year, resort taxes collected hit a record high for the month at $ 1.953 million. Most of the months since have broken the previously held monthly record. The latest monthly figures for July show they came in second on the all-time chart with revenues of $ 1.852 million, Jackson said.

Income is generated by visitors to Polk County who stay in motels and hotels for at least one night. The tax adds 5% to guest hotel bills in addition to the 7% sales tax for stays of less than six months. The marketing agency promotes the hospitality industry in Polk County with its Visit Central Florida website, online and print ads, and direct mail, among other promotional efforts.

Jackson explained that a pool of funding for continued, targeted advertising mixed with early strategic planning when the pandemic first struck helped the county agency keep rooms reserved for local hoteliers throughout. the pandemic. The emphasis on outdoor sports was a lesson learned during the economic downturns that followed September 11 and the Great Recession, he said.

Kevin Denell, executive vice president of Guy Harvey Outpost Resorts, echoed the county marketing agency’s assessment of the local industry by adding that this year, so far, reservations at Lake Mack Lodge , Camp and RV Park in Lake Wales are higher than in 2020.

“We’re a destination for people to go outdoors,” said Denell, and one that gives vacationers a “safe place” to visit. The Guy Harvey Lodge at Camp Mack is located on the Kissimmee chain of lakes with over 35,000 acres nearby for water sports. Visitors stay at the lodge, in cabins or in the RV park, each of which provides guests with great social distancing, he said.

Jackson noted that the opening of Canopy Oaks RV Resort in Lake Wales – another outdoor-focused destination – has also helped bring more tourists to the county.

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Florida Lodging and Restaurant Association: Florida Hospitality Industry Expected to End 2021 Down Nearly 61% in Business Travel Revenue from 2019

Other parts of Florida did not do as well. In a press release from the Florida Lodging and Restaurant Association released on Wednesday, the group announced that the Florida hotel industry is expected to end 2021 down nearly 61% or $ 5.3 billion in business travel revenue. compared to 2019.

The FLRA said, citing a report from the American Hotel & Lodging Association and Kalibri Labs, that business travel is the hospitality industry’s biggest revenue stream and has been slow to return since the start of the year. the pandemic. Business travel includes corporate, group, government and other commercial categories.

Although Florida has seen some return in business travel this year, full comparative income is not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024, the statement said.

The new analysis follows a recent national AHLA investigation, which found that most business travelers cancel, cut back and postpone their trips amid rising COVID-19 cases, the statement said. The lack of business travel and events has a major impact on employment and underscores the need for targeted federal relief, such as the Save Hotel Jobs Act.

The association noted that hotels are expected to end 2021 down nearly 500,000 jobs nationwide from 2019. They added that for every 10 people directly employed in a hotel property, hotels support 26 additional jobs in the community, from restaurants and retail to hotel supply companies. – which means that nearly 1.3 million additional jobs supported by hotels are also threatened.

For comparison, in Polk County in 2019, 21,000 people worked in the hospitality industry across the county, and the industry globally generates $ 2.4 billion for the local economy, Jackson said.

Florida Association President and CEO Carol Dover said, “While leisure travel has returned this year – in some areas, even above the record numbers of 2019 – leisure travel has returned. Overall business remains down, and Florida is expected to end 2021 with the second-highest losses in the nation, behind only the state of California. She added that other industries have received government assistance, but hoteliers haven’t.

Members of the association’s hotel industry generate $ 112 billion for the Florida economy, and the hospitality industry represents 1.5 million employees statewide.

Paul Nutcher covers business and industry for The Ledger. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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