1 year into pandemic, Orange County tourism tax dollars back on the rise after taking dip in January

February TDT collection totaled $10,317,000, latest report shows

FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2019, file photo, guests watch a show near a statue of Walt Disney and Micky Mouse in front of the Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The Walt Disney Co.'s net income fell sharply in its most-recent quarter, as the coronavirus pandemic still weighs heavily on many of its businesses, from theme parks to movies, the company announced Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File) (John Raoux, Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – After taking a downturn in January, Orange County’s tourism development tax collection from hotel and resort stays was back on the rise in February, the latest report shows.

Comptroller Phil Diamond delivered the good news during a coronavirus briefing Thursday afternoon, saying the county’s monthly collection for February totaled $10,317,000.

That’s a $2,638,900, or 34%, increase from January’s collection of $7,678,100, which marked the first time the collection did not increase from the previous month since it hit rock bottom during the pandemic, likely due to reporting a surge in coronavirus cases in January following the holidays, along with additional factors, including sports, officials said.

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Diamond said while the increase in tourism tax dollars is good news, it’s still less than the county has collected in any pre-pandemic February since 2004. February 2021′s collection total is a 63.3% decrease from February 2020, according to the comptroller.

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The chart below, provided by the comptroller’s office, shows collections are still at historic lows.

Chart shows TDT collections at historic lows. (Image: Orange County Comptroller's Office) (WKMG)

Despite hardships brought on by the pandemic over the last year, Diamond said there is reason to remain optimistic that TDT collections will bounce back.

“Although the number of COVID-19 cases and positivity rates have ticked up recently, they still remain relatively low. Additionally, the CDC has just updated its travel guidance for fully vaccinated people. CDC’s updated guidance that fully vaccinated people can travel within the United States is especially important for Orange County’s economy because millions of Americans are being vaccinated every day and will be more likely to travel here,” he said.

The president of Visit Orlando has also said “it’s time to be optimistic” about tourism in Central Florida.

Other recent moves, like Disney relaxing its mask policy for photos in its parks, offer hope that more normalcy could return to theme parks and other attractions soon.

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To offset the TDT shortfalls, the county has relied on its reserves. This month, the country used $2.4 million in reserves, the smallest drawdown of reserve money since the start of the pandemic, according to Diamond’s office. In total, the county has used $130.7 million in its reserves since April 2020.

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

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

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