Sarasota Tourism officials call emergency meeting
by: Alex Mahadevan | Digital Content Producer via The Observer
During a rare “emergency tourism industry meeting” Thursday, Visit Sarasota County President Virginia Haley rallied opposition to a proposal to change the organization’s funding allocation.
Sarasota County commissioners during a May 16 budget workshop, will consider a proposal to put a cap on the growth rate of spending to promote the region as a tourist destination. The plan would allow advertising spending to grow at a specific percentage, with any additional revenues collected above that percentage going toward capital projects.
For example, with a baseline promotional budget at roughly $6.5 million in the current fiscal year and a 2% cap on revenue growth, regardless of the amount of tourism development taxes collected, the budget would be $6.63 million in the next fiscal year. Haley warned that this would hinder the county’s ability to compete with other municipalities for tourists.
“Once you erode market share it’s really hard to get it back,” Haley said. “Why does Coke keep advertising?”
But, Commissioner Joe Barbetta, who made the proposal, said investing in renovations of current assets, such as the Sarasota Fairgrounds, or the construction of new facilities, like a downtown aquarium, promotes local tourism in its own way — permanently.
“All I’m saying is that if (tourist taxes) continue to grow rapidly let’s use some of that money while the sun’s shining to build some assets,” Barbetta said in a phone interview with the Sarasota Observer. “My concern is that you can promote all you want, but if you have a red tide outbreak or a hurricane people are going to go elsewhere.”
Tourist development taxes are a five-cent levy collected on every dollar spent on short-term rentals in the county. Roughly 33% of the amount collected is allocated for promotional spending.
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