May marks first month since pandemic Orange County didn’t have to dip into tourism tax reserves

Comptroller: ‘Welcome news and hopefully a sign of things to come’

Disney closes hotels, shops
Disney closes hotels, shops

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – While tourism tax dollar collections have not fully rebounded in Orange County, officials say there are signs of hope.

The Orange County Comptroller’s Office on Monday released its May numbers, which showed the county collected a total of $16,890,000 in tourist development tax.

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While the total number of monthly tax collections from hotel and resort stays in Orange County is higher than it was this time last year -- a 1,303.5% increase over May 2020, to be exact -- the total number of tourism tax dollars collected in May was $142,100 lower than April’s collection, according to the latest report from the comptroller’s office.

According to Visit Orlando, the slight dip in collections in May compared is nothing out of the ordinary and follows a typical season pattern where tourism slows down after spring break until Memorial Day weekend, which usually kicks off the summer travel season.

“Memorial Day weekend was a positive sign for the destination heading into summer with the Saturday night of the holiday weekend reaching a hotel occupancy rate of 90%,” said Daryl Cronk, Visit Orlando’s senior director of market research and insights. “That was the highest daily occupancy since the first weekend of March 2020, which was just before the pandemic shutdown.”

The report also shows May failed to measure up to the last pre-pandemic May in the books.

“May’s collections were $5,721,000, or 25.3% less than our last pre-pandemic May,” officials with the comptroller’s office said Monday. “In fact, this amount is less than we have collected in any pre-pandemic May month since 2014.”

The chart below shows collections are rebounding but are still below levels from the 2018-19 fiscal year.

TDT collections for May 2021. (WKMG)

Another highlight from the report: May marked the first month since the start of the pandemic that the county did not have to dip into its reserves to offset its funding obligations.

In fact, the county said its “Renewal and Replacement Reserve” increased for the month of May by $32,233.

Since the start of the pandemic, the county has used more than $145 million of reserves to meet its TDT obligations.

TDT reserves for May 2021. (Image: Orange County Comptroller's Office) (WKMG)

“That has caused our ‘Other Authorized Uses’ reserves to decrease from $181 million to $36 million during that time,” officials wrote in the report. “So, this is welcome news and hopefully a sign of things to come.”

Visit Orlando also noted the following as key indicators that show strong progress for Orlando’s tourism community:

  • Lodging: Hotel room demand remains strong, recording back-to-back weeks of occupancy above 70% at the end of June — the first time that’s happened since early March 2020 — and average daily rate ($127.51) has surpassed 2019 levels for three consecutive weeks. Visit Orlando officials say they anticipate demand to meet or exceed current levels through summer.
  • Air Travel: July Fourth holiday travel volume at Orlando International Airport exceeded expectations, coming in at only 8% less than the same 13-day period in 2019, according to Visit Orlando. Spirit Airlines has also announced plans to restore flights to several international and domestic markets, offering 80 departures per day by the end of 2021.
  • Meetings: The meetings and conventions industry is also exceeding expectations, with 68 events scheduled at the Orange County Convention Center for the remainder of 2021, Visit Orlando officials said. That represents an estimated $1.2 billion in economic impact, which would closely mirror what the area saw during the second half of 2019.

June’s TDT collections report will be released in early August, according to county officials.

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