Tourist tax picks up in Orange County, but just barely

Orange County Convention Center
Officials worry prolonged revenue shortfalls will quickly become unsustainable.

Orange County’s tourist tax collections picked up some in the month of June with Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and other attractions reopening, but they still came in at about 10 cents on the dollar compared with last summer.

At that rate, in a few more months, Orange County could start approaching an unsustainable drain on its tax reserves, warned Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond.

In June the county collected $2.6 million in tourist development taxes, essentially bed taxes for hotels. That’s 89.2% lower than what was seen in June 2019. Before the coronavirus crisis crashed the tourism economy in March, the county had budgeted collecting $25.2 million in June alone.

Orange County is by far the state’s tourism epicenter. It’s also the bellwether for how hard and how long the coronavirus crisis could affect not just the economy but the tax receipts in counties like Orange that rely significantly on tourism tax dollars. And the tourist development tax is the clearest indicator of how the tourism industry is going.

Already, Orange County has lost more than $74 million in tourist taxes because of the economic crisis.

Diamond, like anyone else, could not project how long the crisis would last, but does not expect a recovery anytime soon. He offered hopeful signs for July, including that Walt Disney World reopened and is hosting both the NBA and Major League Soccer; and pessimistic signs, noting July was a really bad month for the coronavirus outbreak.

“If the (tourist tax revenue) numbers are $2 million, $3, million, $4 million a month, that’s not sustainable,” he said. “But if and when the numbers could get higher, then that would be sustainable.”

“Hopefully, July is a better month than June, just like May was a better month than April. But it really depends,” he said.

In May, Orange County collected $1,144,300 in tourist development taxes, which was a drop of 95% over May of 2019. In April, Orange County collected only $765,900. That was a drop of 97%.

“Clearly the pandemic continues to weigh heavily on the tourist industry. However, everything that has made Central Florida the country’s most popular destination before the pandemic will still be here after the COVID-19 pandemic passes,” Diamond offered. “We’re home to the world’s best theme parks and entertainment. We have world-class hotels and resorts. Our convention center is the second-largest in the country. And we have great weather.”

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]

One comment

  • Sonja Fitch

    August 7, 2020 at 6:20 am

    The only question to ask “what are the numbers associated with the trumpvirus!” Got a feeling it ain’t enough to cover an already imploding health system. Shut down the State Duffus Desantis! If we ever want to transition our children back to school!

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