South Walton Sees Bed Tax Increase For January
The winter months may be considered the “off-season” for much of Northwest Florida, but this past January, it was actually a month of tourism growth for South Walton.
According to a recent press release from Walton County Tourist Development Council, there was a near 23 percent increase in tourist development tax collection in January 2019 compared to the previous year.
The county recorded approximately $614,976 in tourist development taxes — otherwise known as bed taxes — with an increase of nearly $113,044 from last year.
South Walton Director of Communications David Demarest said the TDC has been working to market the area as a “year-round destination” for the past few years.
“We’ve seen an upward trend,” he said. “In January 2018, we saw 10 percent growth (in tourism). And this year, it was 23 percent.”
An increase in winter bed tax dollars is good news for the local economy since it keeps businesses open and employees working year-round, Demarest explained.
Bed taxes are a four percent tax collected on hotels, condos and other short-term rentals. Revenue supports tourism marketing, beach operations, improvements, and preservation initiatives. For the past few years, the TDC has also used bed tax dollars to purchase more beach access in the county.
Demarest said the 2019 numbers could be attributed to life post-Hurricane Michael. Many displaced individuals and families have moved to the South Walton area.
When it comes to marketing a beach destination during the winter months, Demarest said they focus on events such as the 30A Songwriters Festival, which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary and the Seaside School Half Marathon.
“Of course, we may think it’s cold but people visiting from Chicago think our weather sounds great,” Demarest said with a laugh.
This year’s uptick in winter tourism may also be an indicator for the spring and summer season's ahead.
"In March and April, we are three times as busy as January and February," Demarest said. "It's a great time to get back in gear."