ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The latest tourist tax collection numbers are in and while they aren’t as low as last month’s, they still don’t look good.
Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond announced Wednesday during a news conference that the May 2020 TDT collection totaled $1,144,300, which is a 95% decrease from May 2019. However, that is a slight increase from the previous month’s “extremely low level” of collection, which was a 97% drop compared to April 2019, according to a report from the county.
TDT refers to the tax collected from hotel, motel and resort stays in Orange County, also known as a hotel bed tax.
Diamond said April’s collection was the smallest amount of TDT the county had ever collected in one month.
The latest numbers, according to the comptroller’s office, are comparable to 1980-level collections on a per-penny basis.
The sharp decrease in recent numbers was expected, officials said, while Central Florida’s tourism industry was essentially on pause due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which closed theme parks, hotels and other attractions for months.
Officials hope the collection level will increase moving forward as Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and other attractions reopened last month. Disney World is also on track to welcome guests back to its park this month and hopefully give a much-needed boost to the local economy.
While leaders say the county’s reserves are covering costs for now, they know that won’t work for a long-term solution.
“It is important to point out, however, that we are in uncharted territory, and nobody knows how long it will take to recover. The current level of collections is not sustainable over the long term,” Diamond said. “However, we’re fortunate that Orange County has healthy TDT reserves that will help the county meet its current funding obligations for some time.”
Diamond said the county used about $13 million in reserves last month mostly toward making payments on the Orange County Convention Center.
“It was a little more than usual. Part of it is that, I think, as you know, we have bond payments that are due on the convention center and part of that was that,” he said.
Diamond said the TDT tax typically pays for projects that attract visitors to the region.
“It pays for a number of projects around town, things that we’ve seen. Things like, it’s helped to pay for the Science Center, it’s helped to pay for the coming Pulse Museum, it’s helped to pay for a number of art projects. It helps to pay to promote tourism. It helps to pay to keep the convention center maintained and in shape, so that it can attract more business into the community and create jobs from that,” Diamond said.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said the entire community relies on the opportunities created by the funds, which is why it’s critical that the region bounces back from the financial hardship it’s currently facing.
“We’re living in a time of a pandemic. It’s not gonna last forever, at some point it will pass us by and our economy will fully recover,” Demings said. “None of us know exactly how long that’s going to take for us to recover to pre-pandemic levels.”
Officials said they will keep a close eye on collection trends as more of the county’s attractions continue to safely reopen.
The June TDT collections report is expected to be released in early August.