It's early to put final numbers on the economic impact that the Republican National Convention delivered to Tampa Bay. But on Friday, two tourism officials expressed no doubts that some big benefits had materialized already.
First, the successful handling of an event as large and complex as a national political convention signals Tampa Bay, veteran host of Super Bowls, can now be expected to handle any large-scale event.
Second, the RNC proved a catalyst for 15 economic development and tourism groups from Pasco to Manatee counties to collaborate and act "as one voice in marketing this destination," said Doug McClain, marketing vice president for the Hillsborough County tourism agency Tampa Bay & Co.
It's encouraging to know our regional economic choir can sing with one voice when the need is there.
McClain said there will be more opportunities for his group and its Pinellas County counterpart — the St. Petersburg Clearwater Convention and Visitors Bureau — to unite and pitch Tampa Bay together.
The Pinellas tourism group's budget from bed taxes is near $18 million, while Tampa Bay & Co.'s is just over $10 million, creating a combined $28 million-plus marketing machine for the area.
Third, the cutting edge "social media command center" set up in downtown Tampa by Tampa Bay & Co. during the RNC allowed an online-savvy team to communicate positive messages about Tampa Bay via social media with RNC visitors.
McClain said the command center handled 190,000 "conversations" online during the RNC and sent responses to a majority of them.
That capability has not gone away.
Tampa Bay & Co. recently hired Kat Lewis as its online relations manager to continue that positive-messaging mission. The tourism group has even set up an online social hub (social.visittampabay.com) to focus its promotional efforts.
Fourth, feedback from surveys of RNC visitors reinforced how friendly this area was to out-of-towners. McClain said it helped to offer "guest experience" training to people like cab drivers who often become visitors' first contact with the bay area.
That training works, he said, and will continue.
And fifth, while many want to hear exactly how much the RNC event generated for Tampa Bay, the real benefit lies ahead. D.T. Minich, executive director of the St. Petersburg Clearwater Convention and Visitors Bureau, said many RNC attendees were first-time visitors to the bay area. The benefits of some of them returning in the next several years are big, he said.
Of 50 state delegations, 25 stayed in Pinellas hotels. Some delegates who drove here stayed over for the Labor Day weekend, Minich said.
Some high rollers stayed at St. Petersburg's Vinoy Renaissance. One guest requested a treadmill be delivered to the room. Another guest arrived, filling six luggage carts for a three-day stay, he said.
The RNC impact, while not yet dollar specific, will stretch over many years.
As convention visitors prepared to leave the Tampa Bay area, a well-placed billboard featuring a beach scene said:
Waves, Goodbye: See you again on America's best beaches.
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]