CLEARWATER — Pinellas County tourism continued its record-setting tear in April.
The county collected $3.14 million in bed tax revenue to make it the best April on record. That's a 9 percent increase from last year, when tourists shelled out $2.9 million. It's also the first time tax proceeds have breached the $3 million mark in April.
That good news comes on the heels of March's excellent news, when the county collected an all-time record of $4.5 million in bed tax revenues. Pinellas has collected $17.3 million in bed tax revenues in the first seven months of the fiscal year, a 12 percent jump from the year before.
It's the latest indicator of the continued strength of Pinellas tourism, an industry that has kept its momentum while the rest of the bay area has grappled with an anemic economy and high unemployment.
"I am pleasantly surprised at how great these numbers are in not the best economic times," said Tony Satterfield, vice president of the Alden Beach Resort and Suites in St. Pete Beach. He's also a board member of the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council, which was briefed Wednesday on April's figures.
The public agency is funded by the 5 percent bed tax, which is tacked onto hotels, motels and campgrounds and used by the agency to bolster tourism.
The bed tax figures are why tourism officials expect a strong spring to lead to a strong summer and then a strong August when the Republican National Convention convenes in Tampa. They credit April's success to tourists up North finally taking the trips they had been putting off. Those visitors were also attracted by a very mild winter, officials believe, and aggressive marketing aimed at key domestic markets.
"A lot of visitors had been waiting for the economy to level off before taking the trip they didn't take last year," said David Downing, deputy director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the county's tourism marketing agency. "Another factor was that we got really aggressive in our key feeder markets like Chicago and New York."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3404.