According to the Tourist Development Council, summer lodging revenue is down for reasons that are complex.
At the Oct. 17 county meeting, TDC Executive Director Curt Blair said revenue from the county bed tax is flat compared to last summer,, and revenue for the month of July is down 11 percent.
Blair said the dip in income corresponds to a slight drop in visits to the TDC website, and attributed the downturn to negative publicity about weather.
He said reports of violent crime and other national issues, and a strong dollar, have negatively impacted international tourism.
“Overall the situation is not that bad,” Blair said. “Revenue just didn’t increase at the anticipated rate.”
Blair said he is more concerned about the increase in rental bookings using Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO). He said booking through VRBO are up 400 percent.
“Because of the way they monitor, there’s a good possibility (some owners) aren’t paying sales tax or the local lodging tax,” Blair said.
He said the TDC has started a dialogue with Tax Collector Rick Watson about the feasibility of collecting the lodging tax locally, instead of deferring collection to the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR). He said the county receives no detailed information from the DOR.
Blair said that because the county tax office is implementing new programs including issuing drivers license and concealed weapon permits locally, Watson cannot commit to developing a local program for the lodging tax until the spring. Blair said the TDC is also investigating the feasibility of licensing local lodging venues.
Also discussed at the Oct. 17 meeting was the status of the Dixie Theatre as a recipient of a TDC sustaining grant of $20,000.
At the July 17 county meeting commissioner failed to approve a contract with the Dixie for the sustaining grant. Chair Smokey Parrish asked county staff to investigate whether the Dixie is in compliance with TDC guidelines, which require recipients of sustaining grants to be open 20 hours per week year-round. He said he had received information that the theatre was not open on a regular basis.
At the Oct. 17 meeting, Commissioner Cheryl Sanders asked Blair for a report.
“You either meet the guidelines or you don’t,” she said. “I can’t remember any organization that received a sustaining grant when they have not renewed their contract with the county.”
Sanders said that if the Dixie contract is not renewed the money should be made available to another entity.
Blair said a meeting was planned with Dixie Partington, who sits on advisory board for the non-profit Dixie Theatre Foundation which owns the theatre.
In a telephone interview this week, Blair said Partington has asked to appear before the TDC board at its Nov. 8 meeting. If the TDC endorses awarding the sustaining grant, Partington will appear before the county commission to make her case.
Blair said the Dixie is compliant with some TDC requirements but commissioners were adamant the theatre fulfill all the requirements for a sustaining grant.
In a telephone interview Partington said, while the 20th season was our last “proper season, we will still be producing events throughout the year and this year we will be open 20 hours a week as a museum.”