TAMPA — Visitors arrived for the Republican National Convention in August amid the threat of Hurricane Isaac, protesters and political theater.
No worries. They still left town with a measurably better impression of the region, according to a Tampa Bay Partnership survey released Tuesday.
In fact, positive perceptions of the eight-county bay area jumped nearly 18 percent on average based on pre- and post-RNC surveys of 1,200 delegates, attendees and journalists, more than four-fifths of whom were first-time visitors.
"A lot of people came with little or no impression of Tampa Bay. That can be a good thing, starting with a clean slate," said Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.
The results showed organizers met their goal to "move the needle" during what was viewed as a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity to enhance the bay area's image, said Stuart Rogel, the partnership's president and CEO. More then 50,000 visitors converged on downtown Tampa for the weeklong event, which put the area in the national spotlight for several days.
Market Enhancement Group of San Diego interviewed the RNC visitors by telephone three weeks before the convention and again two to three weeks after the convention.
The survey covered 27 attributes to measure changes in perceptions of the bay area as a desirable place to expand, locate a business, visit and live. Some of the biggest gains came in response to questions about whether they would recommend the region to a friend or business associate, air quality and cultural activities such as ballet, theater and art museums.
Measured on a 10-point scale, the view of the area as "a region I would like to live in" rose 2.32 points to 7.55 while perceptions that this is "a region I would like to work in" jumped 2.7 points to 6.61. The biggest gain came in response to whether the bay area is "a region I would recommend to a friend or business association," rising from 3.89 before the convention to 7.63 after.
"The areas where we made the biggest improvement are key measures which support our ongoing and business development efforts," Rogel said.
Among the three types of visitors surveyed, the biggest jump came among the media visitors, who had the lowest perceptions of the Tampa Bay area before the RNC.
Local economic development and tourism promotion officials expect the improvement in the area's image to pay off. Tampa Bay & Co. is working with "three really strong leads" to bring other conventions here as a result of the RNC, said Doug McClain, the organization's vice president of marketing. And the tourism agency is shifting money to bring more meeting planners to the area on introductory visits. "If we can get them here," McClain said, "half the battle is won."
Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report.