Sunday, December 17, 2017

Door buster

For anyone with relatives coming to town for a week, here's something new to keep them busy.

CityPASS is a prepaid ticket booklet that offers discounted admission to several of the area's top attractions: Busch Gardens, the Florida Aquarium, Lowry Park Zoo and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Buyers also get entry to either the Chihuly Collection or the Museum of Science & Industry.

The booklets cost $119 for adults and $99 for children ages 3 to 9 and are valid for nine days starting with the first day of use. The passes reflect a savings of $73.45 off the regular price of an adult ticket to all attractions — or a discount of 38 percent.

During a press conference Wednesday at Busch Gardens, tourism officials said the passes will give the region a boost, especially among international travelers who have used a CityPASS in other cities.

"This is going to open the eyes of some people around the world that there must be a lot to do in the Tampa Bay area,'' said D.T. Minich, executive director of Pinellas County's tourism agency, Visit St. Pete-Clearwater.

The booklets cater to first-time visitors looking to experience the area's top destinations in a single trip. Of course, locals can buy them, too, provided they have the time to visit all five places in the short window.

"When visitors travel to a destination, they want to see the very best attractions," said Mike Gallagher, CityPASS co-founder and co-chairman. "And a CityPASS ticket booklet makes that easy. It simplifies vacation planning, all while saving the visitor a significant chunk of money."

The booklets are available online at citypass.com and will be sold at the attractions starting May 20, when the program launches. They also will be available through travel websites such as Travelocity and Expedia.

The Tampa Bay area is the 11th North American market to offer the CityPASS and puts the region among the ranks of top U.S. travel destinations. Other places with CityPASS are New York City, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto and Southern California.

Tampa Bay's CityPASS is the second most expensive in the program, behind Southern California's CityPASS, which costs $328 for adults and includes admission to Disneyland, Universal Studios and SeaWorld. Even New York City's costs less — $109 — and includes six attractions, among them the Empire State Building observatory, the Museum of Modern Art and the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island.

CityPASS CEO Megan Allen said the Tampa Bay pass has an advantage over other passes in that buyers can get their money's worth without visiting all the attractions. For example, going to Busch Gardens and the Florida Aquarium costs $113.95, making it about the same as a CityPASS, which includes tax.

Allen anticipates Tampa Bay's CityPASS will sell 80,000 booklets a year by the third year. By comparison, New York City, a top performer, sells about 500,000 a year, three-quarters of them to foreign visitors. CityPASS makes a commission on every pass sold.

Based in Idaho, the company promotes heavily internationally, a growing segment of the local tourism market. Its website is translated into six languages, most recently Chinese.

The CityPASS launch follows a strong year in state and local tourism. In fiscal 2013, Pinellas collected a record $31 million in tourist development taxes, also known as bed taxes. Hillsborough County collected $21.2 million — the most in six years. Florida attracted a record 94 million visitors.

Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Hillsborough's tourism group, Visit Tampa Bay, said he has been asking about CityPASS for more than a decade, and the company's decision to launch here shows the area has arrived on the tourism stage.

"This day has been a long time coming,'' he said. "This takes us to another level.''

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