The summer months, typically known as the “down season” in the local service industry, have disproved the term this year.
“We broke all records. Especially in July and August. Despite the red tide, we had the best August ever compared to any other August in terms of leisure travel, ”said Virginia Haley, President of Visit Sarasota County.
Visitor numbers in Sarasota County increased approximately 34 percent in June and spending increased 44 percent compared to June 2019.
Some July numbers that stood out this year compared to 2019 included an 83 percent increase in tax development dollars, a nearly 40 percent increase in attendance, and a 70 percent increase in spending, from $ 88,403,100 to $ 150,591,500 .
In August, the number of visitors rose by 38.3 percent compared to the same month last year and visitor spending by almost 80 percent.
And increased room rates weren’t a nightmare. They rose from an average of about $ 130 a night in 2019 to $ 176 – a 35 percent increase.
“I think because we’re a beach destination, there is still the feeling of eating outdoors, enjoying beaches and parks, and staying relatively safe at the same time,” says Haley.
Where did the travelers come from?
From April to June, the three most important origin markets were Florida, followed by the Southeast and the Northeast. (An international visit ban due to Covid meant only 1.6 percent of visitors came from areas outside of the US)
The three most popular tourist attractions were St. Armands Circle, followed by Venice Pier and Mote Marine. It’s not surprising that most visitors spent time on the beach (86 percent) and dining at restaurants (65 percent) in terms of activities.
Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Tax (TDT) also told the story of a busy summer season. The TDT is a 5 percent tax levied on accommodation stays of less than six months. These proceeds will be used to fund things like beach maintenance, sports stadiums, and tourism promotion.
Compared to June 2019, the TDT has almost doubled. It was $ 1,832,293.39 in 2019 and $ 3,232,053.93 in June that year, an increase of 57 percent.
July was also strong, and August, albeit more modestly, still showed gains from pre-pandemic numbers. Overall, June, July, and August accounted for a total of $ 3.5 million more TDT collections in the same months leading up to the 2019 pandemic this year.
In Manatee County, the summer numbers told a similar story. Visitors came from the same locations as those who visited Sarasota County, and the county earned almost double TDT taxes as it did in 2019. The total increase in TDT dollars in Manatee County from June to August was more than 3 million U.S. dollar.
The occupancy rate was also strong. From June to August from 70,000 more visitors braved the summer heat this year than in 2019.
“Of the short-term rented accommodations, only 15 percent were hotels and motels. When people came they had a kitchen in their unit so it was easy to stay in if they were afraid to eat in crowded places, ”says Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Falcione attributes a record year to Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. “We are blessed to have the fastest growing international airport in the world. These extra flights have helped us rebuild our influx in the Midwest, ”he says. Plus, domestic travelers had to stay just that – domestic.
He also pointed to Florida’s “open” status during the pandemic. “We have shown that we are not as crowded as other beach resorts. In addition, there is the diversification of our assets through a strong sports segment of tourism with the IMG Academy in the backyard, ”he says.
The rest of the year looks just as strong. “Bookings for Christmas and the holidays are already very strong,” says Haley of Visit Sarasota. “A lot of people who were here last year have already booked for 2022.”
And November 8, 2021 can usher in a new wave of pent-up tourism. The U.S. pandemic travel ban is lifted as fully vaccinated international travelers are allowed to enter the country nearly two years after the first ban was imposed in January 2020.
“With that, I expect unprecedented demand by Easter and then a shift from heavy domestic travel to heavy international travel next summer,” says Falcione, probably a pinball machine. “