Orange County tourism taxes decline for first time since initial pandemic fallout

January 2021 tourism development taxes down 70% compared to same time last year

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – For the first time since Orange County’s tourism development tax collection hit rock bottom during the pandemic, Comptroller Phil Diamond said January’s numbers did not increase like the previous months but instead took a downturn.

Speaking from the Orange County Convention Center on Monday, Diamond announced the latest tourism development tax, or TDT, dollar intake for January, which is collected from hotel, resort and motel stays.

For the first month of 2021, $7,678,100 was collected from taxes tied to hotel beds in the county, a 70% drop from January 2020.

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“Unfortunately for those of you who have been tracking this, that is the first month-over-month decline that we’ve had in TDT collections since we hit rock bottom in April,” said Diamond, adding that while the results were disappointing, “they were not completely unexpected.”

According to the report for January, the amount of tax collected on hotel and resort says was “less than we have collected in any pre-pandemic month since September 2004. It’s also less than we have collected in any January since 2002.”

December’s intake was more than $10.5 million, a 59% drop from December 2019. This is the lowest amount the county had collected in tourism tax dollars in any December since 2005, according to the TDT report.

Diamond suspects the less-than-optimal returns were due to Orange County, and the rest of the country, reporting a surge in coronavirus cases in January following the holidays, along with additional factors, including sports.

“The ballgames were all at low capacity because of COVID, and also this year as compared to last year we did not have the Pro Bowl in town,” said Diamond, adding, “But while we do face many challenges in the short term, there are reasons to be optimistic in the long term. Millions of people have already received the vaccine.”

Diamond said he is encouraged by the numbers of people already vaccinated and that Universal Orlando has resumed construction on its new theme park, Epic Universe.

“That shows that the business community has confidence and optimism about Orange County, to long term economic outlook,” Diamond said. “So these are all positive and hopeful signs that we may be getting closer to turning the corner in this pandemic.”

To offset the TDT shortfalls, the county has used $128 million in its reserves since April. Diamond said for the month of January, reserves decreased by $25 million. The majority of the reserve spending was used to cover the remaining $15 million balance for the construction project at Camping World stadium.

Tourism development taxes are released a month after the completed tax period. February’s numbers will be released in early April.

The funds go toward tourism projects within the county, including the convention center and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.