More record tourist-tax figures for Orange County in January

Orange County’s record streak of monthly tourist-tax collections grew to a full year with a best-ever January.

The achievement was fueled by a steady occupancy rate and an average daily room rate of $190.95, said Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond, whose office tracks receipts from the 6% levy the county adds to the cost of a hotel room or other short-term lodging.

January collections topped $29 million, the highest ever for the month.

The collections were about $2.2 million down from a record December, but the most ever for a January by more than $3.3 million, according to records kept by the comptroller’s office. The previous best for January was $25.6 million in January 2020, two months before hotel-tax collections cratered amid theme park closings and other lockdowns prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Diamond said demand for hotel rooms was up 23% from January 2022 and slightly better than 2019.

Metro Orlando’s room occupancy rate was 73.2%, Diamond said, citing figures provided by Visit Orlando.

The average daily room rate was 17% higher than a year ago.

Often viewed as a gauge for tourism health in Orlando, revenues pay for the Orange County Convention Center; fund Visit Orlando; and defray costs for Orlando’s cultural venues, including the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Amway Center and Camping World Stadium.

Monthly collection reports generally lag about six weeks. February numbers will be announced in early April.

The levy is also known as a bed tax, hotel tax, tourist development tax or TDT for short.

Revenue spending is restricted by state law.

Diamond also noted the collections helped rebuild financial reserves to about $288 million, just short of a goal of $300 million.

Orange County commissioners endorsed a recommendation last year from the comptroller who cited the volatility of hotel-tax revenues while urging the board not to approve any new major funding commitments until annual TDT collections reached at least $300 million and total reserves topped $300 million.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced this week the creation of an advisory task force to explore how best to use future uncommitted revenues.

Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, said the record numbers were spurred in part by a reported 14% increase in January attendance at the Orange County Convention Center over attendance from January 2022. The big conventions included VMX, the world’s largest veterinary conference; the annual Professional Golfers Association merchandise show; and SURF EXPO, an annual show offering swimwear, resort wear, beach wear and souvenir products.

The convention center also hosted FUN Show 2023, a gathering of more than 10,000 coin collectors.

Matej said hotel demand in Orlando is expected to grow 13% in the first quarter of 2023 over a year ago.

March has traditionally been tourism’s best month in Central Florida because of spring break and family vacations.

Matej said room demand is forecast to rise 8% over a year ago, though bookings have been coming in at a slower pace.

The trend of short booking windows, especially for hotels, continues to persist, she said, hopeful for a last-minute surge.