June was a rocky month for Siesta Key.
The Florida Department of Transportation started nightly lane closures on the Siesta north bridge the second week of June. And Tropical Storm Debby destroyed more than 1,000 sea-turtle nests, did $2 million in erosion damage to Siesta Key, and flooded parts of Beach Road for entire days at the end of the month.
However, data from the Sarasota County Tax Collector shows tourism was the strongest it’s been in more than 10 years. Visit Sarasota County President Virginia Haley said it was the best June ever.
Siesta Key businesses rely on local spending when snowbirds and spring breakers take summer leave. Tourist development taxes, the 5% levy on rentals of six months or less that reflect out-of-county visitors, have declined from April to May for the last decade, and increased into the following month. This year the tax jumped nearly 50% from May to June, the biggest summer boost in 10 years. (See box below)
“It’s been great the last couple of years and this summer seems to be continuing the trend,” said Chris Brown, owner of the Beach Club, the Hub, the Cottage and Blu Que Island Grill — all Siesta Key Village restaurants. He currently has 135 employees total, which has grown by 20 compared to the beginning of summer last year.
“There have been a tremendous amount of families,” Brown said. Adding that the free golf-cart taxi rides, bicycle rickshaws, an assortment of food options, and other activities give Siesta Key a wide appeal. “When I go on vacation, those are the things I look for.”
Sarasota County collected $1.03 million in tourist taxes in June, as of July 31, and the number should grow as delayed taxes are sent in. Siesta Key accounted for 38% of that total, with $367,476 brought in — the largest share was shouldered by Siesta Key this year.
The Siesta Key Village Association, in anticipation of construction on the Siesta Key north bridge, kicked up marketing efforts in June with a billboard near the intersection of Bee Ridge Road and McIntosh Road. Radio advertisements started in July.
Haley said Visit Sarasota County, formerly the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau, started marketing efforts targeting in-state tourists earlier than usual this year.
But, she was surprised at the bed-tax bump because those types of visitors can cancel trips for weather events, like Tropical Storm Debby, earlier than national or international jetsetters. “There’s still a lot of pent-up summer vacation demand,” Haley explained.
Visit Sarasota County’s early estimates predicted that total bed taxes would jump 9% in June over the previous month. “It exceeded even what we thought — which is awesome,” she said.