The numbers are in, and Sarasota’s tourism industry is looking good.
Buoyed by an unusually profitable slow season, Sarasota saw another year of growth this year in both the total number of visitors to the county and the dollars those tourists spent, continuing a years-long trend in growth in the tourism industry that has brought valuable tax revenue to the area.
According to Visit Sarasota County, Sarasota County had 740,300 visitors in fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30, spending $640,974,200 in the area economy. That is a 5.8% jump in visitors from fiscal year 2012 and a 10.2% increase in direct spending.
“These are extraordinary increases,” said Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, referring to the increased level of direct spending by tourists. “We’ve seen more consumer confidence and a whole lot more spending across the board.”
In March, Visit Sarasota projected only a 3% increase in tourist visits for 2013. The better-than-expected results come after an unusually active summer season, generally the slow season.
Haley attributes the increase in tourism to the improving economy, as well as several high-profile events such as June’s Pan-Am Masters swimming competition and the Sarasota Cup soccer tournament.
“Any time we expose people to Sarasota, it’s a good thing,” Haley said.
Business leaders on Siesta Key report that 2013 has been one of the best tourism years in recent memory.
“Our visitors are up, our business is up. Things are looking good,” said Cheryl Gaddie, president of the Siesta Key Village Association. “What a difference from three years ago.”
Kevin Cooper, executive director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, said the return rate of visitors is higher for Siesta Key than most other Florida tourist destinations.
“We have a high retention rate for visitors, so continuing to introduce people to the island is vital to us,” Cooper said. “We want people to know about Siesta Key.”
Data from the Sarasota County Tax Collector paints a positive picture for the area tourism industry.
Asked if 2013 will be record-breaking year for tourism revenue in Sarasota County, Haley said, “I don’t see how it can’t be. There’s just no way we won’t come out on top.”
With three months of revenue left to be calculated for 2013, Sarasota County has already raised $12,179,818 in revenue from the Tourist Development Tax — eclipsing the total revenue reported for 2011. This comes after multiple years of increased revenues from the tax. Development Tax revenue grew 16% in 2011, and 17.5% in 2012.
The Tourist Development Tax is a 5% charge on the revenue from rentals of six months or less. Revenue from the tax is used for tourism promotion, maintenance and renourishment of beach park facilities and beaches, sports stadiums, nature center facilities and promoting new tourist attractions and events.
Projects such as the proposed dredging of Big Pass rely on Development Tax revenue.
Siesta Key business owners agree; they report that growth has been consistent and predictable since about 2006.
Chris Brown, owner of the Beach Club in Siesta Key Village, reports that he has seen a steady 8% to 12% increase in business every year since 2006.
“It just keeps getting better and better,” Brown said. “We’ve seen steady, stable growth for a few years now.”
Brown attributed the steady growth to the improving economy, but said the rejuvenation of the Village and the efforts of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and the Sarasota Chamber or Commerce have had a positive effect.
“The chamber does a great job promoting the island,” Brown said, referring to the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce. “People are starting to take notice.”
Cooper said high-profile events, such as the Siesta Key Crystal Classic, a sand-sculpting competition, help introduce people to the area. The Crystal Classic, scheduled for Nov. 15 to Nov. 18, is expected to bring 30,000 to 50,000 visitors to Siesta Key, with more than half traveling from outside Sarasota County.
“Any time people from outside come to Siesta Key, it means rooms sold,” Cooper said.
Asked if she thinks the current tourism uptick is sustainable in the long run, Haley said, “Our goals are ambitious. We expect an increase next year, but not at this level.”
“But we’re looking at reports that October will be particularly good,” Haley added.
Tourism By the Numbers
740,300 Number of Sarasota County visitors in FY2013
$640,974,200 Money spent in the area economy in FY2013
$12,179,818 Amount of revenue from the Tourist Development Tax*
5.8% Jump in visitors from fiscal year 2012
10.2% Increase in direct spending from FY2012
*First nine months of FY2013