Walton County Tourism numbers lower in latest report

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According to a report published in the VisitSouthWalton newsletter, Tourist Development Tax collections showed a 6.6 percent decrease in South Walton for August 2023 compared with the previous year. Total collections for August 2023 in South Walton were $5,433,317.90. The Tourist Development Tax, or bed tax, is a 5-percent tax collected on hotels, condos, and other short-term rentals south of Choctawhatchee Bay. It is the best way to gauge visitation and demand trends in South Walton. The revenue supports tourism marketing and beach operations efforts, including cleaning and maintaining beaches, lifeguards, destination improvements, and preservation initiatives.

While the numbers may be down somewhat, Tourism Director Matt Algarin explained that the report does not tell the whole story. Director Algarin noted that the latest figures are being compared to 2021-2022 but said the trends during those years were unnaturally inflated. “Those high numbers in 2021-2022 were greater than traditional demands seen in 2018-2019 and were likely in response to several factors – Covid mandates and restrictions were still being enforced in many other states, so vacation options in many places were extremely limited. Thanks to Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida remained open as a beach destination,” said Algarin. “People were driven by a strong desire to get out of the house, to be outside, and they felt comfortable coming here. We were very grateful for that, but it created a very unnatural trend.”

The drop was also seen in North Walton County. Bed-tax collection figures on short-term rental accommodations north of the Choctawhatchee Bay totaled $19,917.45 for August 2023. Collections for August represent a 12.1 percent decrease, or $2,756.13, compared with the previous year. The Tourist Development Tax, or bed tax, for the reporting period is a 3-percent tax collected on hotels, condos, and other short-term rentals north of the Choctawhatchee Bay.

Matt Algarin explained that when comparing this year to the normal years of 2018 and 2019, tourism is actually pacing higher. Algarin noted that approximately 80% of our annual tourism population are repeat visitors, with only 15-20% being one-time or infrequent visitors. Further, vacation destinations across America and around the world have re-opened, giving travelers more options. Algarin said that while the fall season numbers are good, we are headed into the slower, winter season and numbers always go down during that time. He noted that high inflation and a struggling economy are having an effect, too. “Still, we feel very positive about South Walton visitor trends. While some individual properties may be experiencing different vacancy rates, overall, our South Walton tourism industry is strong and our numbers are right where we expect them to be,” Algarin said.

For more information, contact the Public Information Office at (850) 892-8155 or pio@co.walton.fl.us.

Walton County Tourism numbers lower in latest report

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