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.
“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.”