- September 19, 2021
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LAKELAND – The focus on amateur athletics and outdoor tourism has helped foster record-setting increases in bed tax revenues according to Polk County Tourism & Sports Marketing.
Hoteliers in the rest of Florida, meanwhile, are projected to see declines as business travelers cancelled trips due to the surge in Covid-19 cases.
“The overall level of tourism is down in the state but there are a lot of destinations from Tallahassee to the Keys setting records over the past six months,” said Jack Cormier, communications specialist with PCTSM. He added, “The key for Polk County has been a tripod approach and sports remain the one leg of the tripod that always weathers the storm.”
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According to agency director Mark Jackson, the county is estimated to collect 15% more in revenue this year compared to 2019 levels when the pandemic first hit.
In March of this year, bed taxes collected reached an all-time high for the month at $1.953 million. Most months since have beaten the previously held monthly record. The latest monthly figures for July show they came in second for the all-time rankings with revenues at $1.852 million, Jackson said.
The revenue is generated from visitors to Polk County who stay in motels and hotels for at least one night. The tax adds 5% to guests’ hotel bills in addition to sales tax at 7% for stays less than six months. The marketing agency promotes the hospitality industry in Polk County with its Visit Central Florida website, online and print advertising, and mailers, among other promotional efforts.
Jackson explained a reserve of funding for continued and targeted advertising mixed with early strategic planning when the pandemic first hit has helped the county agency keep rooms booked for local hoteliers throughout the pandemic. The focus on outdoor sports was a lesson learned during the economic slowdowns following 9/11 and the Great Recession, he said.
Kevin Denell, executive vice president for Guy Harvey Outpost Resorts, echoed the county marketing agency’s assessment of the local industry by adding that this year so far bookings at Lake Mack Lodge, Camp and RV Park in Lake Wales are higher than in 2020.
“We are a destination that people are able to go outdoors,“ Denell said, and that provides vacationers with a “safe spot” to visit. The Guy Harvey Lodge at Camp Mack is located on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes with more than 35,000 acres nearby for water sports. Visitors stay at the lodge, in cabins or the RV park, which each provide guests with plenty of social distancing, he said.
Jackson noted that the opening of Canopy Oaks RV Resort in Lake Wales — another outdoor-oriented destination — also helped attract more tourists to the county.
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Other areas of Florida have not fared as well. In a Florida Lodging and Restaurant Association press release on Wednesday, the group reported the hotel industry in Florida is projected to end 2021 down nearly 61% or $5.3 billion in business travel revenue compared to 2019.
The FLRA stated, citing an American Hotel & Lodging Association and Kalibri Labs report, that business travel is the hotel industry’s largest source of revenue and has been slow to return since the onset of the pandemic. Business travel includes corporate, group, government, and other commercial categories.
While Florida has seen some return of business travel this year, full comparative revenue is not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024, the release stated.
The new analysis comes on the heels of a recent national survey by AHLA, which found that most business travelers are canceling, reducing, and postponing trips amid rising COVID-19 cases, the release stated. The lack of business travel and events has major repercussions for employment, and underscores the need for targeted federal relief, such as the Save Hotel Jobs Act.
The association noted hotels are expected to end 2021 down nearly 500,000 jobs nationally compared to 2019. They added, for every 10 people directly employed on a hotel property, hotels support an additional 26 jobs in the community, from restaurants and retail to hotel supply companies – meaning an additional nearly 1.3 million hotel-supported jobs are also at risk.
By comparison, in Polk County during 2019 there were 21,000 people working in the hospitality industry countywide and the industry overall generates $2.4 billion for the local economy, Jackson said.
The Florida association president and CEO, Carol Dover, said, “While leisure travel returned this year – in some regions higher than even 2019’s record figures – business travel still remains down overall, and Florida is projected to end 2021 with the second highest losses in the nation, behind only the state of California.” She added, other industries have received government assistance but hoteliers have not.
The association’s hospitality industry members generate $112 billion for Florida’s economy and the hospitality industry represents 1.5 million employees statewide.
Paul Nutcher covers business and industry for The Ledger. He can be reached at email@example.com.