Palm Beach County is on track for the first time to collect $4 million in tourism taxes in back-to-back months.
Bed taxes, as a 5 percent tourism tax on hotel rooms and other lodging stays is called, were $4 million in February for only the third time, according to Tourist Development Council data. The last time was March 2012. The first time was March 2007.
That goes to show you how hard the economy was hit by the recession.
But the even bigger news is that it happened in February this year, and March is the top tourism month for Palm Beach County.
“I think March might be a record,” said Jim Mostad, sales director at The Breakers and member of the Convention and Visitors Bureau executive committee, at a Convention and Visitors Bureau meeting this week.
“The hotel industry is definitely on the rebound,” said David Burke, vice president of sales and marketing for the Palm Beach landmark, after Thursday’s Tourist Development Board meeting.
Both occupancy levels and room rates have been increasing, and hoteliers generally made $15 more per available room in February than the year before, TDC data shows. Hoteliers are indicating March was even better.
Not only is March traditionally the strongest month for tourism — tourism taxes and passengers at Palm Beach International Airport peak — this year it wrapped together spring break and Easter. That probably means April figures will be more modest without the Easter weekend, but the revenues for the year are ahead by double digits. The TDC’s fiscal year runs Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
Barring a hurricane or other economy-dampening disaster, the calendar year of 2012 is on track to hit a landmark $30 million in bed taxes, which would make the county eligible to levy an additional 1 percent in tourism tax known as the sixth cent or sixth penny. If the county hits the landmark, which is based on taxable sales of transient rental units, it will be ahead of projections to be eligible for the super tourism tax.
“We’re very excited about the growth in tourism,” Deputy County Administrator Verdenia Baker said. She has said the county administration supports levying another percent of bed tax.
If revenues continue to beat budget expectations this year, the bed tax agencies will have additional money to tap into for special needs later this year or to use next year, said Baker, who is the county administration liaison to the tourism agencies.
Roger Amidon, TDC board member and former executive director who returned to private hotel management last year, said tourism is returning to tax collections equal to the heyday of 2007. “That means each of the agencies is reaping the benefits” of having more money, he said.
One of those benefits could be the brand launch planned for June. The CVB is wrapping up a three-year process to revamp the county’s brand, now portrayed by its slogan: “Palm Beach County, The Best of Everything.” But the budget doesn’t allow for the planned media blitz.
If a sixth penny is added — and currently the Hotel & Lodging Association is not supporting that — it would give the CVB additional marketing dollars for which it has been lobbying recently. And those would be sustainable funds, as Baker pointed out. The agency has been supplementing its efforts with reserve funds in recent years, but those dollars are tapped out.
New TDC Executive Director Glenn Jergensen, who recently moved over from the CVB, said this week that 90 percent of the bed taxes are collected from hotels and motels, with the remaining 10 percent from alternative lodging sources like seasonal condos and campgrounds.
Just like with every other industry, jobs have not been added at a pace that matches tourism growth because employers are running a lean staff. But leisure and hospitality — the hotels and restaurants that are at the heart of tourism employment — showed a 9 percent increase in February since the worst recession year of 2010 and finally overtook employment levels from the boom years.
Bed taxes for 2013
Compared to 2012, bed taxes seeing jump
Jan 2013 $3.187 million up 28%
Feb 2013 $3.454 million up 5%
March 2013 $4.006 million up 9%
Source: Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council
February events that drove tourism
FTI Winter Equestrian Festival and International Polo Club polo season/Wellington
Allianz Championship/Boca Raton
Delray Beach International Tennis Championships
Cardinals/Marlins spring training at Roger Dean Stadium/Jupiter
World Series of Poker/West Palm Beach
Two art shows at convention center/West Palm Beach