Gulf of Mexico
Tony Giberson, PNJ

FL - Despite COVID, Hurricane Sally and staffing, Pensacola-area hotels had record-breaking 2021

Escambia County’s tourism has rebounded strongly from a 2020 full of COVID-related closures, Hurricane Sally damage and staffing shortages, reporting a 23% increase in bed tax collections over 2019 with a head start on what could be an even more record-breaking 2022.

All short-term lodging locations like hotels, motels and Airbnbs collect a 5% tax on stays for the Tourism Development Tax, a fund that goes back into organizations like Visit Pensacola and Pensacola Sports, as well as local agencies that request funding for their tourism-related events and ventures.

In 2019, the TDT collection from October through September was $12.3 million, which dropped to $9.7 million in 2020. The 2021 collection was $17.6 million.

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The most recent year’s collection is inflated in part due to a fifth-cent increase in the tax collected that went into effect in April, but the 23% year-over-year increase from 2019 does not include the additional funds collected for part of 2021.

Because the fiscal year starts in October, there are already two months’ worth of TDT collection data for the 2022 year. October and November collection data — comparing only the first four cents to provide an accurate year-over-year count — shows a 27% increase over the 2021 fiscal year.

“That is strong, those are significant numbers,” Visit Pensacola President and CEO Darien Schaefer said Tuesday.

Schaefer said pent-up travel demand caused a huge influx in hotel guests in April 2021 as the “drive market” of tourists from areas like Louisiana, Georgia and Alabama came to stay when they were restricted from flying or going on cruise ships, for example.

The Clerk of Court's office data shows that there are close to 3,900 active accounts contributing to TDT collections as of last week, with 650 new registrants having signed up in 2021. By comparison, the number of new accounts was 350 in 2019 and 450 in 2020, but the clerk's office data doesn't break down whether those new sites are hotels, short-term rentals or other types of lodging.

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