- September 14, 2021
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Volusia County’s booming summer tourist season continued to reverberate in July, generating a record monthly total of more than $3.9 million in tourism bed-tax collections countywide.
It marks the second consecutive record-setting month in a summer that has seen tourists flock to beach destinations as outdoor travel options have become more popular amid continuing pandemic concerns.
“This is one of the best summers in history,” said Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County. ”I can’t remember a summer as great as this.”
Yet there’s an expectation among many in the area’s hospitality industry that it will be challenging to maintain that momentum in the fall, with students back in school and the lingering presence of COVID-19 still in the news.
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In July, hotels, vacation rental properties and campgrounds throughout the county generated $3,965,775 in bed taxes, up 44% from $2,760,166 for the same month two years ago, before the coronavirus pandemic delivered its devastating blow to tourism worldwide in 2020.
That figure, reported by the Volusia County Revenue Division, also outpaced the $2,199,537 collected for pandemic-crippled July 2020 by 80%.
The July collection total is an all-time monthly record, said Michael Jones, operations manager for the Volusia County’s Treasury and Billing department.
In June, hotels, vacation rental properties and campgrounds throughout the county generated $3,511,129 in bed taxes, up 49.2% from $2,352,397 for the same month two years ago in pre-pandemic July 2019.
A previous record-setting month was reported in March 2021, which generated a total of $3,482,486, Jones said. Prior to that, the record was set in March 2016, with collections of $3,230,664, he said.
The record numbers reflect the effectiveness of tourism marketing campaigns as well as pent-up demand for travel, especially by visitors who drive to the destination, said Lori Campbell Baker, executive director of the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“Our tourism partners and our community did a great job attracting and welcoming visitors to the destination in July, and that helped our local businesses and their employees to thrive,” Baker said.
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Evelyn Fine, president of Mid-Florida Marketing & Research, also pointed to pent-up demand of visitors who had skipped vacations during the height of the pandemic in 2020.
“That’s exactly what we’re seeing,” Fine said. “As we look at the visitor profiles, we’re seeing a lot of people who have been here before are coming back and there are new people, as well. Daytona Beach is having its moment in the sun and July is supposed to be good.
“We survived without any major storms or weather interference,” Fine said. “People seem to be absent-minded about COVID restrictions, so we stayed pretty strong. The beginning of August also seems very strong, but after Labor Day, all bets are off. We are all waiting to see what happens in that time.”
The county collects a 6 percent tourism tax on hotels and lodges with half of the revenues going to fund the county-run Ocean Center convention complex in Daytona Beach. The other half goes to the county’s three tourism ad authorities to market their respective areas — the Daytona Beach/Halifax area, Southeast Volusia and West Volusia — as tourist and special event destinations.
For the first 10 months of the fiscal year that started on Oct. 1, countywide collections of $23,982,343 are 15.7% ahead of the $20,711,842 collected for the same period in pre-pandemic 2019. That figure also represents a 44% increase over the $16,653,166 collected for the first 10 months of 2020.
Compared with other Central Florida tourist destinations, Volusia’s numbers contrast with an 81% year-over-year increase for the month in Brevard County, which collected a record-high total of $2.1 million.
In Orange County, July collections of $24.7 million represented a whopping 376% increase over the same month a year ago. The July collections also were higher than July 2019 collections by $2.1 million, representing the county’s highest all-time total for the month.
It’s typical for the pace of room demand to slow after the summer season, said Rob Burnetti, general manager of the 212-room Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach Shores.
“That’s just the normal trend as we head into the fourth quarter,” Burnetti said. “I think it will still be a good fourth quarter, with rates still up. I think we’re going to enjoy the afterglow from what has been phenomenal summer.”
At this point, an influx of leisure travelers has more than compensated for business and group bookings that have yet to rebound, Burnetti said.
“Group business is nowhere near its normal levels, but we still blew the doors off the last couple of years,” he said. “Rates are up, which is good for everybody because it offsets the additional labor costs involved with overtime. Because of the labor shortage, the people we do have continue to work overtime to help us get through.”
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With students back in school and the continued presence of COVID-19 concerns, the fall could be challenging, said Davis, of the hotel association.
“Unfortunately, I predict that September will be down,” he said. “The time has changed, but I’m very satisfied and grateful for the great tourists in July.”
COVID-19 uncertainties tied to the delta variant are having an impact on the mindset of travelers, said Scott Smith, a hospitality professor and director of graduate studies at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
“With the virus, it looked like we had it under control, but it’s looming on the horizon again,” said Smith, who worked as director of convention services in the early 1990s at the Daytona Marriott, the hotel that is now the 744-room Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort.
“People again are going to be hunkering down until this COVID thing is better under control,” he said, “to see which way the delta variant is going to go.”
Smith also expects the pandemic to continue to put a damper on business travel, a portion of the market that becomes more important outside of the peak summer travel season, he said.
“In the summer, the overwhelming demand is leisure, but then that goes back to business and convention travel,” he said. “When it comes to that, we’re just really seeing people not holding these types of events.”