For five years running now, St. Lucie County has collected a record-breaking amount in bed-tax collections – the fees collected when tourists check into a hotel, motel or some other short-term rental facility.
This last year, the county took in more than $4.18 million. The 6.1 percent increase over the previous year’s collection is due in part to an overall increase in population and general awareness of what St. Lucie has to offer, according to Charlotte Bireley, director of tourism and marketing for St. Lucie County. “We believe this results in more visits,” she said.
There is a 5 percent tax assessed on housing rentals less than 6 months in length. Those rentals include stays at hotels, resorts, RV parks, campgrounds and even privately-owned vacation rentals.
Proceeds from the so-called “bed tax” help cover the cost of maintenance at First Data Field – where the Mets hold spring training and the St. Lucie Mets play – and fund capital projects around the county.
Two such capital projects include improvements at the Treasure Coast International Airport and creating the Zora Neale Hurston heritage trail. Currently, no other capital projects are on the books for planning, according to Bireley.
Other uses for the bed tax include servicing debt as well as paying to market the area through partnerships. “In the grand scheme of Florida tourism,” Bireley said, “St. Lucie is still a small destination.”
She credits the working relationship the county has with the statewide agency Visit Florida for helping to get the word out about St. Lucie County, as well as St. Lucie’s partnerships with sister counties Indian River and Martin to help brand and market the Treasure Coast. “We can’t do it without partnering,” Bireley said.
The Tourist Development Council, which oversees the usage of the bed-tax revenues and reports to the County Commission, has worked to help fund the Treasure Coast Sports Commission. That organization is tasked with attracting amateur and youth athletic events to the area – including venues in Indian River and Martin counties.
Bringing such events to the area means more room nights, Bireley said. She explained that bringing in one large tournament could mean more rooms booked at hotels and the like as more teams participate.
The record-breaking fiscal year ended Sept. 30, just before red tide struck the area. To what extent the naturally-occurring algae bloom affected the area’s tourism remains to be seen.
Bireley said she has not yet received the October data pertaining to hotel occupancy levels, average daily rates and revenue per available room, the indicators she studies to determine the overall health of tourism in the county.
Regardless, “the tourism industry is resilient,” she said.