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A Pleasant Surprise! Orlando's December '08 Hotel Tax Revenue
 Just 0.9% Less than Prior Year

By Sara K. Clarke, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

February 3, 2009 - Orange County's hotel-tax collections fell just slightly in December -- a pleasant surprise for an industry racked by months of year-over-year declines.

The county said Monday it collected $12.2 million from hotels and other short-term rentals, about 0.9 percent less than it collected in December 2007. That followed a drop of more than 13 percent in November. County Comptroller Martha Haynie said she was "happy to report" the improved results, but she urged caution.

"Given the continuing instability in the economy, it is unwise to make projections based on a single month's results," Haynie said in a written statement.

Industry insiders said Orlando's hotel market got a boost in December from cold weather in the Northern U.S. and a strong lineup of meetings at the Orange County Convention Center. Smith Travel Research reported last month that area hotels, excluding those at Walt Disney World, filled 61.3 percent of their rooms in December, a 1.2 percent improvement from December 2007.

Still, the county has taken the unusual move of scaling back its forecast for collections of the resort tax during its current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. County officials about a year ago projected revenue totaling $178.5 million in fiscal 2009; they now expect to collect about 10.5 percent, or $18.8 million, less than that.

"It's just more realistic about what our expectations are," Haynie said.

An extended slump in hotel-tax collections would threaten the financing of big civic building projects planned for downtown Orlando, including a new performing arts center and a renovated Citrus Bowl.

Sara K. Clarke can be reached at skclarke@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5664.

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To see more of The Orlando Sentinel or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.OrlandoSentinel.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.

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