Orange County tourism taxes down 59% in December compared to 2019

Collections increase for 8th consecutive month

Guests wear masks as required to attend the official reopening day of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on July 11, 2020. (Joe Burbank, Orlando Sentinel via Associated Press)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County tax collections from hotel and resort stays remained at historic lows through the end of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic; however, the latest numbers from the comptroller’s office show a continued, slow rebound as collections increased for the eighth consecutive month after hitting rock bottom in April.

Tourism Development Taxes, or TDT, are released a month after the completed tax period. On Monday, Comptroller Phil Diamond shared December’s intake was more than $10.5 million, a 59% drop from December 2019. This is the lowest amount the county has collected in tourism tax dollars in any December since 2005, according to the most recent report.

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December’s total is an increase from November’s intake of about $8.7 million, offering some hope for Central Florida’s tourism industry, but the comptroller emphasized the county’s collections are still at historically low levels since April when the lockdowns began.

“This is a hopeful sign for the local tourism industry, which has been devastated by the pandemic,” Diamond said in his monthly report. “Although the steady monthly increases in collections are positive news, $10,592,000 is still less than we have collected in any pre-pandemic month since September 2010.”

Orange County's tourism tax dollar collection totals in 2020. (Image: Orange County Comptroller's Office) (WKMG)

According to the comptroller’s office, the increase in collections for December was not unexpected due to holiday-related tourism, especially at the theme parks

“Between the holidays and the weather and the fact that there was some good news on COVID rates, it was welcomed to see the increase in tourism last month,” Diamond said.

But Diamond added the number is a reminder that the local tourism industry is still a long way from being what it once was.

“While we hope that the continued rollout of the vaccines will allow us to put this pandemic behind us, it will be months before vaccines are widely available to the whole community,” Diamond said. “In the meantime, it is important for all of us to do our part by wearing facemasks and practicing social distancing to keep our families, visitors and community safe.”

To offset the drop in TDT funds, the county has been using reserves to meet financial obligations. So far, the county has used $103.1 million in reserves since April, according to the report. The county used $9.6 million of its reserves in December alone, with $6.3 million of it used to cover convention center capital outlays.

On the same day December’s collections report was released, Orange County reported 418 new COVID-19 cases. More than 106,000 cases have been confirmed in Orange County since the pandemic began last year. Statewide, Florida has reported 1,783,720 cases since the coronavirus pandemic began in March.

COVID-19 vaccines began being administered in December. According to Monday’s daily vaccine report from the Florida Department of Health, 2,016,291 people have been vaccinated statewide, including more than 97,000 in Orange County.

The next TDT collection report will be released in early March, according to Diamond’s office.