Tourism revenue decreased 13% in the 2020 fiscal year, according to Tourism Director Amy Lukasik — less than staff had feared it might.
Flagler County's tourism income — the money that the government gets from the "bed taxes" people pay to stay in local hotels — dipped during the pandemic, but not as much as county staff feared that it might.
"Even though we started out the year down 18% because of Hurricane Dorian — and of course we had the pandemic — we only ended with a decrease of 13%, so that's something we're proud of since tourism was limited," County Tourism Director Amy Lukasik said in a presentation at a Feb. 1 County Commission meeting.
Bed tax money in the community totaled $2.38 million in the last year, saving residents an estimated average of $756 per household in taxes and supporting close to $159 million in wages and salaries, she said.
But Flagler County's government got more than money from its tourists this year: It also got answers.
The county commissioned a research firm, Downs & St. Germain Research, to query tourists about their trips: How they'd decided to visit, how they planned their trip, where they stayed, what activities they engaged in.
"We’ve never had this type of research before," Lukasik said. "It gives us a lot of direction for other decisions that we will make."
The data collection process started in October 2019 and continued through the end of September 2020.
The results, Lukasik said, were promising.
Of the 2,024 people interviewed, 96% said they planned to return for future visits, and 94% said they’d recommend Flagler to friends and family.
County staff estimated that tourists generated $454.6 million in economic impact in Flagler County in the 2020 fiscal year, spending about $309.3 million on accommodations, shopping, restaurants, transportation and entertainment and supporting 5,814 jobs.
The county had 572,400 visitors in fiscal year 2020, and those visitors generated 382,700 room nights in paid accommodations in the county, Lukasik said.
Each dollar spent by the tourism bureau on marketing had translated into $402 in visitor spending, Lukasik said.
The typical tourist, Lukasik said, is a 52-year-old woman with an annual income of $77,000 who planned her trip less than a month in advance and traveled with two other people, planning to visit the beach and friends and family.
Of the visitors surveyed, 29% had noticed advertising for Flagler County, and the top advertising mediums had been social media, the county's visitor guide, radio, billboards and the internet. The survey estimated that one out of every five visitors to Flagler County came because they were influenced by advertising.
Most of those visitors — four out of five — drove to get here, and most also visited neighboring areas, St. Augustine in particular, during their vacation. Of the 70% surveyed who stayed overnight, the average stay was about four nights.
Once visitors arrive, they head for the beach (82%), dine locally (75%), and partake in outdoor recreation (62%) and water recreation (37%), according to the survey results.
"We feel that having all of those assets is one of the main reasons we were able to survive ... during the pandemic," Lukasik said. "Those are the things people were looking for. "