By Cecil G. Brumley
With the hospitality industry continuing to show improvement in September in Volusia County, it appears tourism and business travel is finally on its way back up.
The long decline began in March 2008, before coming to a halt last year. In September, countywide bed tax collections for support of the conventions business, including the Ocean Center, were at $346,002, up 9.43 percent from $316,187 in September 2011. Looking at the bed tax collections for the three tourism promotion agencies, the Halifax area was up 9.78 percent and Southeast Volusia was up 12.81 percent. West Volusia was down 3.7 percent.
The county still has a way to go before getting back to its peak in February 2008, but at least there are signs continued improvement is on the way in 2013. Improvements already have been made in several properties along the beachside in the Halifax area and if Avista Hotels gets a Hyatt Place and Residence Inn by Marriott open soon in Daytona Beach Shores, then that should help with next year. In 2014, the pace could quicken if plans for two big new resorts in Daytona Beach go through.
Last month, I was taken to task by some hospitality industry folks for saying the tourism promotion folks need to remind people that Daytona Beach is a cheap place to visit. I stand by my statement, but with a little more explanation. At a high-end place like the Shores Resort & Spa, rated four stars by Hotels.com, you can get a room in December for $114 to $239 a night (depending on whether you get riverview or oceanview with a balcony). For the Delano, another four-star rated place by Hotels.com, in Miami Beach, you'd pay $379 to $529. While Miami Beach may be a little warmer in December, I would argue that it's not $200 a night warmer.
Of course, for the management of the Shores Resort & Spa, it's not easy to maintain its high-rating with such low rates. Still, it's something the tourism promotion folks can use to bring more tourists and business travelers to the area, which, in the end, could help the Shores raise its rates.
While downtown Beach Street in Daytona Beach still needs a lot of work, at least there continues to be interest in the area from entrepreneurs. Anne M. Sammartino wants to open the White House restaurant at 116 N. Beach St. That's a stretch of the street that could use some businesses. Some of you might recognize the address as the former Love Bar. The former Sick Boys Lounge at 200 N. Beach St., an address that has seen a lot of different businesses, could become La Tosca Cafe. Both restaurants are in the early planning stages, but hopefully will open.
Sparton Corp. took a little bit of a hit in its fiscal first quarter with a decline in revenue and profits. Sales of sonobuoys, which are manufactured mostly at its DeLeon Springs plant, were down after some failed U.S. Navy tests. But the company said they will past the next tests and expect its sonobuoy business to remain strong. It also bought a big medical manufacturer for $43 million to help boost the healthcare side of its business.
Evidence that we're not out of the woods economically, the number of initial claims for unemployment benefits were at 1,955 in October. That's down from 2,200 in October 2011, but still stubbornly high.
Brown & Brown bought Johnson & Strachan Inc. of Manassas, Va., which has annual revenue of $2.7 million. That adds to the strength of the insurance agency network's market in Virginia as it continues on its quest of $2 billion in annual revenue.
With average gasoline prices dropping ever closer to $3 a gallon, the holiday shopping season is already getting a boost. It's a safe bet that this may be one of the best seasons for retailers since the Great Recession began.
Associate Managing Editor Cecil G. Brumley has been tracking business in Volusia County for more than 15 years. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cecilbrumley.