Orlando’s tourism industry — still going strong in the pandemic recovery — brought in the highest hotel tax revenue ever collected in the month of February, officials said.
The Orange County 6% surcharge on overnight stays generated $32.6 million in February, according to Comptroller Phil Diamond.
“Month-over-month, February collections were higher than January collections by $3.6 million,” Diamond said in a statement.
Hotel tax proceeds were also up 14% compared to February 2022.
Visit Orlando reported hotel occupancy hitting 82% for the Metro Orlando area in February. The average daily hotel rate for the month was about $216, up 16% year-over-year.
“While demand was strong both for leisure and convention hotel properties, the convention segment continued to deliver a higher year-over-year increase (21%), and the Orange County Convention Center reported a 30% increase in attendance from February 2022 across 35 events,” said Visit Orlando CEO Casandra Matej in a statement.
Matej said she expects tourism for March to be on pace with last year. Spring break vacationers, MegaCon and the Global Pet Expo 2023 at the convention center, as well as downtown Orlando hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, helped bring in overnight guests into Central Florida, she said.
Orlando’s tourism industry stopped abruptly when the theme parks shut down for several months in 2020 during the pandemic. Hotel tax revenue plummeted. But today, tourism is thriving again.
Diamond said he was pushing for county officials to rebuild $300 million in hotel tax reserves to build up from the pandemic losses.
The milestone was surpassed Feb. 28, Diamond said.
The Orlando Sentinel has reported a new county task force is exploring other ways the 6% tax can be spent beyond promoting tourism through Visit Orlando, the Orange County Convention Center and the other current uses. Some critics are pushing for the hotel tax to go toward public transportation, affordable housing or on other issues that arise from millions of tourists visiting every year and creating an economy filled with low-wage tourism jobs.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said the task force members he appointed will “establish priorities” for future tourist tax spending, the Sentinel reported last month.
Demings also said the task force must work within the framework of state law, which limits how the money can be spent, the Sentinel story said.