Orange County tourist tax disappears almost entirely

Orange County Convention Center
97% drop of tax receipts in April for the state's largest tourist engine.

Orange County’s tourist tax revenue all but vanished in April as the coronavirus crisis and the ensuing shutdowns emptied the county’s hotels, motels, and vacation rentals.

The county’s tourist development tax proceeds — normally the greatest in the state and one of the greatest in the nation — fell an astonishing 97% in April compared with the previous April’s normal totals, the Orange County Comptroller’s Office reported Wednesday.

In April, Orange County collected $765,900 in bed taxes.

In April, 2019, the county collected $25,894,600.

The drop-off was the largest the Comptroller’s Office has ever seen. The $765,900 in monthly proceeds was the smallest amount the office has ever seen.

“Although this level of decline in TDT collections is unprecedented, it was not completely unexpected. The economy, especially the tourism sector, was essentially shut down for all of April. For the same reason, May’s collections will likely show a significant decline as well,” Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond stated in a news release on the report.

“That said, Universal and many smaller attractions will be open by the end of this week. SeaWorld will reopen later this month and Disney World will begin reopening next month,” Diamond continued. “Those are all positive developments for TDT, our local economy and the residents whose jobs depend on the industry. It will take months, however, to see how this re-opening plays out.”

In addition to those theme parks, the county’s massive convention center, the second-largest in the country, and a large collection of mega-hotels with convention centers of their own also mostly shut down.

Orange County collects far more tourist tax than any other county in Florida. Orange is rivaled nationally by very few places, such as Las Vegas, which all have different formulas for such taxes, and therefore present only apples-to-oranges comparisons.

Typically, Orange County’s tourist tax collection is just under 30% of all the tourist taxes collected in the entire state of Florida.

This fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2019, Orange County had projected collecting $290 million.

The coronavirus shut down the economy in mid-March, after what had been a running-above-budget year for Orange County’s tourist tax proceeds until then. Just with the drop-offs in March and April, Orange County already has fallen 19% behind projections for the whole year.

Diamond and other county officials have been expecting such a drop-off. In fact, in April Randy Singh, Orange County’s deputy administrator for administrative and financial services, told the County Commission to prepare for a $90 million loss in tourist taxes for the entire year.

The biggest portion of Orange County’s tourist tax revenue goes toward debt services on the Orange County Convention Center and several entertainment venues, the Amway Center, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, and Camping World Stadium. Those debt payments will not change, Singh said in April.

So, the lost revenue will be felt by others that get portions of the tax, including the Orange County Convention Center’s expansion and renovation plans, the convention and visitors bureau Visit Orlando, and various arts, sports marketing, and cultural organizations.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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