Summer started slowly for Pinellas tourist businesses. But the real story was where visitors came from — and where they didn't come from.
Fewer Midwesterners and far fewer tourists from the Northeast spent at least one night in Pinellas in June. A surge of Floridians and a bump in Europeans couldn't quite make up the difference.
Economic jitters and too few inexpensive or free airline tickets kept potential visitors from the North away during summer's first month, said D.T. Minich, tourism director for Pinellas County.
"When people tried to use frequent flier points, they found all those seats dried up," he said. "And when (ticket) prices went up, a family of four was looking at spending several hundred dollars. That's why it's crucial we have as much low-priced air service as possible."
Overall, the estimated 556,700 visitors to Pinellas for the month was down 1.2 percent from June 2007. Tourists from the Midwest, the county's top feeder market, were off 5 percent from a year earlier, and Northeast visitors were down 9.6 percent.
The good news: A $1-million advertising campaign aimed at residents within 90 miles of Pinellas beaches apparently paid off. Visits by Floridians were up 8 percent from June 2007. Greater Orlando ranked as the No. 2 source of tourists behind the Tampa Bay area. A year earlier, Orlando ranked No. 6. But Floridians typically stay for long weekends, while out-of-state visitors tend to spend a week.
"It's kind of quiet in the middle of the week," said Todd Plumlee of Plumlee Gulf Beach Realty in Indian Rocks Beach. The company's vacation condo rentals are down about 3 percent from last summer, he says.
Nancy Mayer, owner of La Veranda Bed & Breakfast in downtown St. Petersburg, says rentals of her five suites in June generated only one-third the revenue of a year earlier. The $3,200 wasn't enough to cover her monthly mortgage payment, much less insurance and electricity.
"I think people are concerned about the economy," she says. "With what they've got to pay for food and gas, vacations are kind of a luxury right now."
Steve Huettel can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3384.