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ORLANDO-Orange County’s tourism market, heading into the busiest season of the year, may be at the beginning of a full recovery, based on the $8.5 million in October room taxes collected by county comptroller Martha O. Haynie.

For the third successive month, the 5% room tax collections have eclipsed last year’s volume for August, September and October, and even surpassed Haynie’s own projections for the first month in the local government’s fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

Haynie had projected collections for October of $8.3 million. The $8.5 million figure represented a 2.5% increase. Haynie says she is “hopeful that results such as this will continue” for the rest of the year and into 2004.

The monthly collection numbers in Orange County, Central Florida’s largest county, are watched closely by real estate developers, lenders, brokers and appraisers as a key barometer of the local hospitality industry’s health.

Collections for fiscal 2003 totaled $93.3 million, up from $91.6 million in 2002 but still below the $104.8 million in 2002 and the record $108.2 million collected in 2000. The numbers tumbled immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist strikes in New York and Washington, DC.

Orange County started collecting the room tax in 1979 when first-year-revenue totaled $3.5 million. The annual collection volume increased for the next 21 years until it suffered its first decline in 2001, county collection records show.

One senior broker who predicted the turnaround a year ago in an interview with GlobeSt.com is Robin L. Webb, central region managing broker in the Maitland, FL office of Coldwell Banker Commercial NRT.

“Bolstered by the national economic recovery which is taking shape, we believe travel to the attractions and beaches of Central Florida will increase by around 4% in 2004,” Webb tells GlobeSt.com. “However, the reality of a relatively high, continued unemployment and the tremendous rate reductions which were put in place in 2001 and 2002 will continue to restrain full recovery of revenue-per-available-room during 2004.”

Webb notes that “outside of Disney and Universal Studios, (new) construction has been held to a minimum, so increase in the supply side of the equation has been very limited over the past 24 months.” He adds, “The year (2004) will clearly reflect a good occupancy recovery in the Central Florida market but we anticipate that a full rate and revpar recovery will not be accomplished until 2005.”

He says, “Good things do come to those who can afford to and do wait,” a reference to his earlier turnaround prediction following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. “As expected, 2003 has shown signs of stabilization in recent months and it appears, barring anything unforeseen on the terrorism front, that the Christmas season of 2004 will be the true beginning of a consistent, positive travel and occupancy trend” in Central Florida.

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