SEBRING — The closure of the Kenilworth Lodge because of fire code violations last year has had a small impact on tourism tax revenues.
Casey Wohl Hartt, lead marketing consultant for the Tourism Development Council, told attendees at the Greater Sebring Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday that despite that, overall, a lot of positive things are happening on the tourism front.
One key way to market Highlands County to increase tourism, she said, is the Tourism Development Tax, which is paid by people who stay at hotels and motels for less than six months.
It’s a 2 percent tax on all transient accommodations for people who are tourists or very short-time residents.
When tourism development tax collections from Oct. 1, 2015 to May 1, 2016, are compared with Oct. 1, 2016, to May 1, 2017, revenues dropped by about $11,000.
Hartt speculates the reason is the closure of the Kenilworth Lodge. She said occupancy increased at several other motels, otherwise, the loss in revenue would have been larger.
It appears that if the Kenilworth is the source of the revenue, then that drop will continue for the foreseeable future.
Sebring City Attorney Bob Swaine said there’s been little movement in a lawsuit filed by the owner of the historic hotel. The owner wanted an emergency hearing to get the lodge reopened, but there’s been no request for an emergency hearing date, Swaine said. One reason may be a switch in attorneys because the original attorney for the Kenilworth became ill.
Hartt said tourism’s impact in Highlands County has been increasing. Between 2013 and 2015, visitor spending increased from $113.5 million to $147.8 million.
She said they’ve been tracking internet views on the Visit Sebring-Highlands County web site to determine where the page views are coming from. Tampa, Atlanta and Orlando are among the cities. Then the TDC will increase marketing in those areas.
A new web site will be completed soon, she said.