Early tourism numbers shatter last year's total

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Like a child first encountering an array of gifts beneath the tree on Christmas morning, it is a challenge to know where to start when it comes to unwrapping the latest tourism numbers.

That is because so many are in record-breaking territory. based on a report shared by Tourism Development Council Director John Solomon at the county commission meeting Tuesday.

The month of June - the last month in which the Florida Department of Revenue has reported back to the county monies from the lodging tax - posted the highest monthly total ever, in any month, since the voters first approved the 2 percent tax to begin during the 2005-06 fiscal year.

June’s roughly $327,000 total, 15 percent above June 2020, was only the second ever $300,000 month, the only other in June 2019.

In amassing that number, for just the first nine months of the fiscal year, the county snapped the $1.43 million total amassed over all 12 months of the previous fiscal year.

And bear in mind that was all with the 16-year-long 2 percent tax on all short-term rentals in place.

In July, that 2 percent went up to 3 percent, after the county commission gave its unanimous blessing to the increase earlier this year.

With a record year already established, it now looks to be very likely the lodging tax will meet or exceed the $2 million mark when the fiscal year ends with Sept. 2021 numbers, to be reported sometime around the end of the calendar year.

To show how likely the $2 million number will be reached, consider that if July, August and September were to all remain at 2 percent, and were unchanged from last year’s monthly numbers, the TDC would yield roughly $2.02 million for the current fiscal year.

There is little doubt that it will exceed that, and based on factoring in 3 percent, could go as high as $2.3 million.

Solomon’s appearance before the commission included him grasping in his hands the “Henry” award that he and TDC Chairman Ricky Jones received at Visit Florida’s annual Governor’s Conference in Hollywood Sept. 8.

Franklin County received the state’s highest tourism marketing award, in the rural marketing category, for the Florida’s Forgotten Coast mobile app, an application that was Jones’ idea that Solomon then developed, incidentally at a lower cost than would have been the case had the TDC brought in an outside contractor to  do the work.

Launched in Nov. 2020, the mobile app helps visitors access information about area amenities, events, lodging, restaurants, shopping and outdoor recreation opportunities with just a click on their phone. It also includes a push notification feature that notifies users of weather-related information such as double red flag beach alerts or emergency information within the county.

This is the first Henry award for Franklin County and its fourth Flagler award in the past two years.

After hearing words of congratulations from Commissioners Jessica Ward and Bert Boldt, Solomon noted that part of the lodging tax increase was due to the use of the mobile app.

“We brought more money into the county,” he said. "What a great team we have at the TDC that loves their community, and works hard to promote in its best light."

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