ANNA MARIA – Tourism tax funds are collected when someone rents a hotel unit or room in Manatee County. Currently, these funds are required to be used to promote tourism and tourism-related projects. But the tourist tax is a significant amount of money, and some local officials, including Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie, want to change the way that money is currently spent.
When someone rents an apartment or hotel room in Manatee County for less than six months, there is a 5% tourism tax that goes to the designated county to be used to promote tourism. Anna Maria Island is the largest contributor of tourism tax funds to the county.
Chappie addressed members of the Manatee County Tourism Development Council (TDC) during public comment at an Aug. 15 meeting, asking that the law regarding how the 5% tourism tax is spent be changed to include funding for infrastructure for due to the recent boom in tourism since time. The COVID restrictions were lifted in late 2020 and early 2021.
“I just wanted to remind you that hopefully during this upcoming state legislative session, we’ll really talk to legislators to try to change where our tourism tax dollars can be spent,” he said. . “In the 70s, when I got here, the plots on the island were laid out and there were three to six people on these plots. What has happened over the last decade, without any action on our part for the most part, is that we are cramming 12 to 22 people into the same 75×100 lots.”
Chappie says that because of this huge growth, the island’s infrastructure is suffering. He noted that public safety, law enforcement, sewer lines, lifeguards and services that are being stressed by the huge increase in visitors are in desperate need of additional funding. He believes the tourism tax should be the source of those much-needed funds.
Of the $2,838,590.97 collected in tourism taxes in June 2022 (latest figures available) in Manatee County, $1,405,389.01 came from the three towns of Anna Maria Island, nearly half of the total for the county. At $890,927.24, Holmes Beach collected more tourism tax dollars than Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria combined.
“We need to get that going and try to be able to use the TDC dollars for things other than bringing more tourists here,” Chappie said. “We love our tourists, I’m not putting the tourists down at all, they’re a big part of our economy, but we can’t continue as it is now. We need other sources of funding for these important things that our communities have.”
Commissioner Carol Carter of Anna Maria also addressed the TDC agreeing with the mayor’s plea. Carter said Anna Maria has more than 800 vacation rentals in a town that covers just one square mile. She said while permanent residents average 1.8 people per home, vacation rentals tend to average nine people per home.
“Just for your information, the state legislature made some exemptions a few years ago for TDC for the three counties in the group, kind of focused on Panama City and all the tourism involvement they have there for public safety reasons,” Carter said. “So there is a precedent and I just reinforced what Speaker Chappie said about the next legislative session.”
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore also joined the discussion using Holmes Beach not having a pier, despite being the Island’s main source of tourism tax dollars, as an example of why change is needed.
Later in the TDC meeting, Ann Wittine of Research Data Services (RDS) presented her state of tourism update presenting the most recent statistics available regarding the tourism industry in Manatee County as of June 2022.
“We’re so used to those arrows pointing up,” she said. “What we saw in June was a slight rebound in June 2022 numbers, but what I want to point out is that, compared to our benchmark in 2019, before COVID, our visitors are up 25.8%, nights in rooms have increased by 25% and the economic impact has increased by 38.4%.
Wittine said the reason for the recent drop in numbers is because, in 2021, the area was seeing a large increase in visits driven by the fact that people were getting vaccinated in record numbers in the first quarter of 2021 and therefore more likely to to travel. The volume of rooms is also slightly lower in 2022 at 79.3% compared to 88.1% in June last year. It is still higher than in June 2019 when it was 74.7% before COVID. The average daily room rate has increased, however, to $209.19 per day in June 2022 compared to $195.19 in June 2021.
While the island is used to seeing large numbers of tourists from Florida, these numbers actually fell 19.8% from June 2021, but increased 126% from 2019, showing the effect that the COVID travel restrictions had on people who were not left Florida during the height of the pandemic. For the fiscal year to date, visits are up 14.1% from June 2021 and economic impact is up 27.2%, standing at $1,284,951,900. This number is 47.6% higher than in June 2019.
The RDS Traveler Sentiment Study showed that 78.8% of future travelers to Florida were optimistic about personal health, but only 54.4% were optimistic about personal finances, compared to 70% in June 2021. When asked how close things are to return to normality, 46.5% of people said they were close, compared to 51% last year. The biggest concern for future travelers was gas prices. Wittine’s data shows an expected decline in tourism numbers until at least October.