Make us your home page
Instagram

Bowen: Pasco's new tourism boss seeks to change county outlook

Adam Thomas, director of Visit Pasco.

Adam Thomas, director of Visit Pasco.

Adam Thomas is an experienced traveler.

His first career lasted 11 years and took him from Boise, Idaho, to Las Vegas, Nev.; Long Beach, Calif.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Mexico; Venezuela; the Dominican Republic, and a dozen other work locations. That is the itinerary for a baseball player whose professional employment was spent on pitching mounds in the minor leagues, foreign countries and independent leagues.

His new job is to entice travelers to pack a suitcase and head to Pasco County.

Thomas, 38, is the recently hired director of Visit Pasco, the county's tourism office, which is seeking to upgrade its destination marketing efforts. He accepted the $82,000-a-year job after leading Citrus County's tourism efforts for the prior four years.

His initial day working for Pasco County coincided with Hurricane Irma's arrival. Nine days later, his first scheduled meeting of the Tourist Development Council failed to draw a quorum, and, while standing in the Pasco County Historic Courthouse, he learned that one of its members had resigned earlier that morning.

Teamwork and dedication appeared in short supply at that moment.

But Thomas looked at it as an opportunity. It is an opportunity for better engagement and to work with people more committed to the cause.

"Opportunity'' is a big part of his vocabulary.

Pasco County's tourism draws?

"There's a lot of opportunities,'' he said.

You can't disagree with his thinking. The county has committed to a $5 million upgrade of its coastal boat ramps. The private Florida Hospital Center Ice is going gangbusters. A regional outlet mall opened less than two years ago. Bicycle and pedestrian paths are sprouting. SunWest Park finally has more water amenities available. There are historic downtown districts. You can go zip-lining off St. Joe Road or be pampered at Saddlebrook Resort. Lots of nudists like it here as well.

We didn't even mention sports tourism.

"Another great opportunity.''

Indeed, the county just doubled its tourist tax to 4 percent to finance its share of a $44 million sports/hotel complex with nearly 100,000 square feet of indoor space for competitions, plus outdoor fields and a privately financed hotel within the Wiregrass Ranch development in Wesley Chapel.

Then there is the hotel building boom. A new hotel just opened at the Suncoast Parkway, and another is scheduled to open next year at nearby Bexley Ranch. Two more are under construction near the ice complex in Wesley Chapel. Another hotel builder already has purchased land near the indoor sports facility at Wiregrass, and two other developers have filed preliminary plans with Pasco County to build hotels — one in Land O'Lakes and another in Hudson.

More rooms mean more tourists. And Thomas said Pasco is well positioned both geographically and with its offerings to be a serious competitor for tourist spending.

"You have a metropolitan lifestyle, but you also have the eco-tourism and leisure lifestyle. You get the best of both worlds,'' he said in an interview after the scuttled TDC meeting.

"It's a very diverse destination that I feel can be positioned correctly and can compete highly in today's tourism (market).''

The correct positioning also will bring scrutiny over how tourism dollars are allocated. Remember, this is a county that at one time had an extended brouhaha over whether to use tourist tax dollars to buy bleachers for a rodeo that no longer exists. More recently, it committed to a generous contract for a lacrosse tournament before realizing Tampa and Hillsborough County were the prime beneficiaries of the hotel nights generated by the event.

Historically, the county has favored mom-and-pop festivals and minor sporting events. Commissioners have even overruled Tourist Development Council recommendations to wean some of the events from public subsidies. It is reflective of the county's small-town culture — and of individual commissioners' parochial concerns — even though Pasco is now home to a half-million people and commissioners are elected countywide.

The buzz words now will be "return on investment.''

"We have to look at the money we're spending and say, 'Is this the best opportunity for us to gain the greatest return?' " said Thomas. "Because the only way we're going to get a return on investment ... is to get people to stay in hotels. So if we're spending on a festival that isn't generating tourism, we have to take a step back and say, 'Is that our mandate? Is that our business model?' "

It will require a change in mind-set, Thomas acknowledged.

In that respect, Thomas is on a familiar journey.

When it comes to tourism, he is tasked with getting Pasco County out of the minor leagues.

Bowen: Pasco's new tourism boss seeks to change county outlook 10/04/17 [Last modified: Thursday, October 5, 2017 11:35am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Seminole Heights restaurants face struggles amid killings, post-Irma

    Food & Dining

    SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — The neighborhood's hip circle of popular, well-regarded restaurants is feeling the squeeze in the wake of a recent killing spree. And the timing is rough.

    Ella's American Folk Art Cafe. Times files
  2. St. Pete-Clearwater holding food, supply drive for hurricane refugees

    Airlines

    CLEARWATER — St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport and Allegiant Air are holding a food and supply drive for the Hispanic Outreach Center in Pinellas County. The event, which will benefit refugees displaced by Hurricane Maria, will be held Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the airport at 14700 Terminal Blvd.

    St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport and Allegiant Air are hosting a food and supplies drive Tuesday for refugees displaced by Hurricane Maria. | [Times file photo]
  3. Tallest building in Pinellas County in search of a new name

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — The name "Priatek" is gone from Pinellas County's tallest building, perhaps to be replaced by that of a much better-known company new to the Tampa Bay area.

    The Priatek name is off of downtown St. Petersburg's tallest building.
 [LARA CERRI  |   Times.  2015]
  4. Estuary wins pier design contest for the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway extension

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — And the winner is… Estuary.

    Voters overwhelmingly supported a pier design called Estuary for the $200-million extension of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in Tampa.
[Courtesy of AECOM]
  5. Amazon receives 238 proposals from places eager to become its 2nd headquarters

    Business

    NEW YORK — Amazon said Monday that it received 238 proposals from cities and regions in the United States, Canada and Mexico hoping to be the home of the company's second headquarters.

    Earlier this month, an Amazon employee gives her dog a biscuit as the pair head into a company building, where dogs are welcome, in Seattle. Amazon says it received 238 proposals from cities and regions hoping to be the home of the company's second headquarters. 
[AP Photo/Elaine Thompson]