It’s back to business in the tourism industry according to executive director Steven Hayes of the Visit St Pete – Clearwater (VSPC), the tourism bureau for Pinellas County. The organization held its annual meeting last week, in person at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, with highlights of record tax revenue activity for the periods of 2019 – 2021. The Pinellas County Tax Collector, with a sneer, disclosed that tourists in Pinellas County have paid a record $73 million dollars in ‘bed taxes‘ for the first 10-months of 2021.
Who is Visit St Pete - Clearwater? | VSPC
The Tourist Development Council (TDC) and staff of the Visit St. Petersburg-Clearwater (VSPC), and Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) are responsible for making recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) on matters relating to the Tourist Development a/k/a bed tax. This bed tax often paid by tourists is used to strengthen the local economy and increase employment through the ongoing promotion and development of tourism, Pinellas County’s major industry. VSPC is a department of Pinellas County Government and is the official tourism marketing and management organization for the St. Petersburg – Clearwater area.
The CVB is charged with enhancing the county’s economy by increasing direct visitor expenditures and job development, training, and retention in the tourism industry. The organization works domestically and internationally to develop and enhance sustainable tourism for the St. Petersburg – Clearwater area in both the leisure and meetings markets and targets consumers, travel media, the travel industry, meeting, and conference planners, sports promoters, and film producers with research-driven marketing programs touting beaches, sports, arts and culture, and nature-based opportunities. The CVB also leads a community-based team to market the benefits of tourism to residents while working with varied interests to assist in the development of new attractions and the redevelopment of others. (Source VSPC website)
Bed Taxes Who Pays Them?
With forward-thinking statements like, ‘interest in beach and arts/culture‘, the VSPC has identified tourists who want to travel to a beach destination are likely from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, and Tennessee. It’s phenomenal these five states could generate enough tourism to St Pete – Clearwater areas to generate bed tax revenue of more than $73 million dollars in the fiscal year 2022. The financial fallout from the disappearing bed tax was felt by hotels, restaurants, and many others in the tourism industry during the pandemic; measuring the bed tax is one indicator of economic activity, but not the end-all of measures. Meanwhile, in theory, we are suggesting there is a mystery column in an excel spreadsheet maintained by the tax collectors that confirms a phantom tax base, off the radar to the public, and Visit St Pete – Clearwater.
Is the Tourist Development Tax ‘Monopoly‘ Money?
The bed tax, a six percent (6%) tax collected on overnight accommodations in Pinellas County rented for less than six months; generates a significant amount of economic cooperation throughout Pinellas County, Florida, and is paid by tourists. The pandemic demonstrated that bed taxes, paid by tourists, is like monopoly money that can disappear with the tide into the Gulf of Mexico. When the area St Pete – Clearwater hotel occupancy rates dropped to 20%, in April of 2020, millions of dollars in bed tax revenue was lost and unrecoverable, just like monopoly money.
Shadow Taxes Who Paid Them?
While VSPC has identified targeted areas like Ohio to attract visitors to St Pete – Clearwater and to pay a bed tax, St Pete Talk has also identified a cloud-like source of tax revenue linked to the Pinellas County tourism industry. These ominous foreign-like tax payments surfaced during the pandemic and have been unseen for the past 30 years, or just not tabulated by anyone.
Background, the areas of St Pete – Clearwater have always been a sunny destination for anyone looking to escape the winter months experienced in let’s say, Québec, Canada. In the 1980s beach condominiums started popping up along the Gulf of Mexico beach communities throughout Pinellas County, and they were bought and occupied by snowbirds, living in North America above the 49th parallel.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, snowbirds continued with their business and eventually created a snowbird-funded real estate tax portfolio worth over $19 billion dollars in real estate holdings throughout St. Pete – Clearwater areas and amassing annual estimated tax payments of $19 million dollars to the economic benefit of Pinellas County.
Unallocated Tax Payments
Fast forward three decades later these peculiar tax payments to the tax collector have continued like clockwork even throughout the pandemic lockdown. When the bed tax revenue dropped 20% at the peak of the pandemic, the tax collectors were unable to recoup the lost bed tax revenue, similar to monopoly money.
Interestingly, tax revenue continued pouring into the tax collector despite the drop in tourists coming to the area. In theory, tax revenue was still accumulating in an obscured chart-of-accounts without the appropriate business attribute and has remained locked up in an excel spreadsheet.
Pinellas County tax records confirm that throughout the pandemic, Pinellas County benefited financially from these unexposed taxed payments.
For the last 30 years, these tax payments have come from snowbirds living above the 49th parallel and they have quietly contributed to the economic success of Pinellas County by payment of million dollars in taxes to the tax collectors. The snowbird community has always been generous to Pinellas County, it just took a pandemic to understand their economic impact also translates into a recognizable bed tax of sorts.
With the bed tax remittance plummeting to $42 million dollars in April of 2020, anyone living in a beach town community dependent upon tourism understands the gut-wrenching feeling of wondering how your business and livelihood would endure during the lockdown. Despite the economy-shift to be less dependent upon tourism, many communities throughout Pinellas County pride themselves on moving away from the dependence on tourism to avoid the financial conundrums that accompany the tourism industry.
For example, the city of St Petersburg is actively attracting high-tech companies to relocate their corporate headquarters to the city. Much like a financial portfolio, cities are diversifying their tax base to endure better economically when times change.
Visit St Pete - Clearwater - Goes Internationally
In a previous blogpost, it was disclosed that the airline, Swoop would be starting seasonal service from Canada to St Pete – Clearwater Airport based St. Petersburg, Fl. The airline has made it easy for snowbirds from the Hamilton area of Ontario to fly to St Petersburg (PIE), initially this November on Tuesdays, with added Swoop flights on Saturdays, starting in early January of 2022. These ultra-low fares for Canadians will encourage snowbirds who have been locked up on lockdown due to the pandemic to come to St Pete – Clearwater this winter season.
In an official press release earlier this year, “We are excited to welcome Canada-based Swoop to our family of airlines,” said St. Pete-Clearwater International airport director, Tom Jewsbury. “Canadians will have a convenient, non-stop option to fly to our award-winning destination from Toronto and Hamilton, Canada, and many will want to visit as the borders reopen. Being one of only a few of Swoop’s U.S. destinations, we are confident that the sunny St. Pete-Clearwater area will be a popular one. We want to thank our partners at Visit St. Pete – Clearwater and Volaire Aviation for helping us make this possible.”
What is Next for Visit St Pete - Clearwater?
St Pete – Clearwater bed tax revenue has entered record levels, more than $73 million in 2021, indicating tourists this past year from Ohio, Illinois, Indiana have returned to traveling and they want sun, beaches, arts and culture in that order. Based upon bed tax sales data for the previous year VSPS should anticipate in the months of February and March 2022 an influx of snowbirds returning to St Pete -Clearwater beach communities further enhancing bed tax revenues. In other words, a busy time with lots of tourist activity is ahead. Learn more about Visit St. Pete-Clearwater.