If it looks to you like there’s been more tourists visiting Franklin County than in the past, there’s no need to make an appointment to see an optometrist.
Your eyes are not deceiving you. The numbers are up.
In fact, with just one month left of collections to be announced for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, the Tourist Development Council has already posted its best year on record, collecting as of Aug. 31, more than $1.31 million, an increase of more than $7,000 over last year’s record.
After the fiscal year opened with a devastating Hurricane Michael-ravaged Oct. 2018, in which revenues from the two-cent bed tax tumbled by more than half, to a little more than $38,000, the county posted records in eight of the next 10 months, including topping the $300,000 mark for a June for the first time ever.
If the county bests the Sept. 2018 numbers in the final month of the 2018-19 fiscal year - which at about $70,000 last year were a drop over each of the three previous years - then the county will collect in the neighborhood of $1.38 million in bed tax receipts, an increase for the year of better than 5 percent.
“At the beginning of January we were at an uncertain time,” said TDC Director John Solomon. “To be at this number it’s a welcome accomplishment.”
Bear in mind that with the closure of the Rainbow Inn after the hurricane, and its continued closure, the county has been without one of its largest motels all year long. Clearly, the number of RV sites have expanded, and there is a continued presence of short-term lodging provided by homeowners, most of whom market their homes through Airbnb or VRBO, both of which are mandated by the state to pay the 2-percent bed tax for all renters.
Solomon said that with the recent purchase of a KeyData software, the county is set to expand its tourist audience even further, enabling it to pinpoint its advertising.
“Basically it tells where our people are coming from, when they’re booking for, and when they are doing the booking,” he said. “It will help us streamline advertising so our money is better spent.”
He said an initial look at the data indicates the county has gradually expanded from its typical target region of North Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky.
“We’ve seen increases from South Florida, and from the New Orleans market,” Solomon said.