|By Christopher Boyd, The Orlando
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 4, 2006 - Orange County resort-tax revenue was nearly unchanged in February from the same month in 2005, but the monthly report released Monday also reflected a downward trend in occupancy that worries hoteliers.
The Orange County Comptroller's Office said hotels collected $11.55 million in resort taxes in February, compared with $11.59 million a year earlier, a 0.3 percent decrease.
But the hotel industry was more concerned with how the tax -- 5 percent on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals -- was paid than the amount. Room rates were more than 11 percent higher this February than in 2005, rising to an average $84.84 a night from $76.03 last year. But the occupancy rate was down about 10 percent.
"If we can't create more demand, we will have a problem," said Danielle Courtenay, spokeswoman for the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau. "In order to have a healthy industry, we need to have healthy occupancy."
Comptroller Martha Haynie said the February results were acceptable, if lackluster. She said results for the fiscal year were healthy, with revenue increasing 5.1 percent in the five months starting Oct. 1 compared with the same period in 2004 and 2005.
"While of course we prefer a month over month increase, resort-tax revenues remain strong overall," Haynie said.
Last month, Orange reported that January resort-tax collections were 4.2 percent higher than the year before.
Basil Trowbridge, director of operations at the DoubleTree Hotel Orlando on Major Boulevard, said the hotel industry is concerned about the decrease in occupancy rates.
"I think it's OK for the moment because we are making revenue based on rates," Trowbridge said. "You might make your room budget, but you are making it on rates and not occupancy."
Trowbridge said hotel owners worry about the summer months, when budget travelers are more abundant.
"Summer is the season when Florida customers and rate-conscious travelers come here," Trowbridge said. "There is a concern that there might be a small panic and a rate war."
Christopher Boyd can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5723.
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