Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

Hillsborough tourism recovering with bed taxes near pre-recession high

TAMPA — Don't call it a comeback. That's because — technically — Hillsborough County tourism still hasn't fully rebounded from the Great Recession.

But the recovery is almost complete: Hillsborough collected $21.2 million in tourist development taxes in fiscal year 2013. That's the most the county has collected in six years.

The 2013 figure is also just $646,000 shy of the 2007 pre-recession record of $21.8 million.

"The economy has gotten better, people are spending money," said Santiago Corrada, the chief executive officer of Visit Tampa Bay, the Hillsborough tourism agency. "We see it with leisure travel. We see it with conventions. When we hit rock bottom with $17.5 million, that wasn't happening."

That bottom was fiscal year 2010, when tourist tax collections in the county plunged 20 percent from the record high set in 2007 — the year that the global downturn began and rattled tourism markets across the Unites States.

The tourist development tax in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties is a 5 percent surcharge on every short-term accommodation. Also known as the bed tax, it's considered one of the best measures of the tourism industry because it's directly correlated to hotel bookings.

The same metric that indicates Hillsborough tourism is poised to recover has also shown unprecedented growth in Pinellas County tourism. Pinellas garnered a record $31 million in bed taxes in fiscal year 2013.

Hillsborough tourism has seen a steady recovery since 2010's low point. Bed tax collections hit $21 million in fiscal year 2012, but that was a historic year: The Republican National Convention filled tens of thousands of hotel rooms on both sides of the bay.

What's more impressive is that Hillsborough actually did slightly better the year after the Republican convention — without an RNC-like event, collecting $162,000 more in bed taxes.

Corrada sees the Hillsborough tourism market rebounding fully in 2014 and then setting records.

"Our future years look stronger and stronger," Corrada said. "If Bollywood can deliver the way it's supposed to deliver … we're projecting a very good year."

The 2014 International Indian Film Academy's Weekend & Awards — also known as the "Bollywood Oscars" — are coming April 26 to Raymond James Stadium. The awards show is expected to bring 35,000, and up to 60,000 more are expected to attend related events.

Hillsborough officials also believe they've booked a strong lineup of conventions, like the IBM Smarter Commerce Summit, which is expected to fill 10,000 room nights in May.

Officials hoped that the RNC would revive Tampa Bay's flagging convention business, which suffered greatly during the recession. But Corrada said the rebound in Hillsborough tourism is about more than just that.

"In my opinion, you can't ever pin it on one thing," Corrada said. "The recession has ended and people are traveling again. We're also being a whole lot smarter in how we're marketing the destination."

Last April, Corrada took over leadership of Visit Tampa Bay. A month later the agency unveiled a new brand that was already in the works to better sell tourists on the history, culture and urban-flavored experience of Tampa as a complement to Pinellas County's beaches.

The two markets aren't just different geographically.

Pinellas tourism has boomed in the past two years. Pinellas set a bed tax record in fiscal year 2012 thanks to the RNC — then beat it by 8 percent in 2013.

Pinellas officials credit their tourism boom with relentless and refined marketing efforts. And while both agencies work together in many respects, there are important differences.

Corrada said it's harder to market a county that doesn't have popular beaches. Hillsborough is one of only three non-beach counties in Florida's top 10 in tourist tax collections. The other two (Orange and Osceola) are fed by Orlando's theme parks.

While most of Pinellas' bed tax revenue goes to tourism marketing, Hillsborough shares its revenues with entities like the Florida Aquarium and Lowry Park Zoo.

Even their marketing budgets are very different: In the last budget year, Hillsborough spent $1.8 million. Pinellas spent $12 million to market the beaches.

But Corrada sees more than just recovery in Hillsborough's tourism future. The convention business will keep growing, he said, and there's no lack of big events on the horizon.

After Bollywood, Tampa will host the NCAA Women's Final Four national basketball championship in 2015; the Frozen Four college hockey national championship in 2016; and the college football playoff national championship game in 2017.

Add the new Copa Airlines route that connects Tampa International Airport directly to Panama City, a hub to the rest of Latin America, and Corrada is bullish on Hillsborough tourism.

"I'm very optimistic with all these big events," he said, "and now with a pipeline for more tourists and business travelers, the stars are aligning pretty nice."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404. Follow him on Twitter @jthalji.

Hillsborough bed taxes

In fiscal years

2007$21,840,869
2008$21,294,953
2009$18,423,290
2010$17,537,995
2011$19,094,003
2012$21,032,444
2013$21,194,472

Source: Visit Tampa Bay/Hillsborough County Tax Collector's Office Note: Fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

Comments
Edward Peachey demands severance from CareerSource before stepping down

Edward Peachey demands severance from CareerSource before stepping down

The head of the Pinellas and Hillsborough career centers under multiple investigations into the way they report job placement figures says he has no intention of stepping down.That’s unless he is paid five months severance.In a letter from his attorn...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Terminally ill Valrico man dies a month after marrying junior high sweetheart

Terminally ill Valrico man dies a month after marrying junior high sweetheart

VALRICO — During his final few days, 19-year-old Dustin Snyder moved to a hospice house, surrounded himself with belongings from home, swam in a pool and visited the beach in Ruskin.Wherever he went, the terminally ill Valrico man had family beside h...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Tampa Downtown Partnership gets initial city okay to expand north

Tampa Downtown Partnership gets initial city okay to expand north

TAMPA — The Downtowner may be heading to Tampa Heights — but not until Oct. 1.That’s because the nonprofit Tampa Downtown Partnership this week won initial City Council approval to expand into Tampa Heights."Tampa Heights is becoming an important gat...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Tampa lawyer gets 27 months in federal prison for insider trading

Tampa lawyer Walter "Chet’’ Little was sentenced this week to 27 months in federal prison for engaging in an insider trading scheme that reaped him and a friend profits totaling nearly $1 million.According to federal authorities, Little accessed comp...
Published: 02/23/18
More companies are cutting ties with gun lobby as #BoycottNRA movement gains steam

More companies are cutting ties with gun lobby as #BoycottNRA movement gains steam

Three major companies — Enterprise Holdings, First National Bank of Omaha, and the cybersecurity giant Symantec — have ended co-branding partnerships with the National Rifle Association as a #BoycottNRA social media movement picks up steam.Enterprise...
Published: 02/23/18
Citi to refund $330 Million to credit card customers it overcharged

Citi to refund $330 Million to credit card customers it overcharged

Citigroup is preparing to issue $330 million in refunds after the bank discovered it had overcharged nearly 2 million credit card customers on their annual interest rates, a spokeswoman said Friday.The bank, which has about 150 million credit card ac...
Published: 02/23/18
Girl Scouts camp sold to member of Tampa’s Lykes family

Girl Scouts camp sold to member of Tampa’s Lykes family

ODESSA — The 63-year-old lakeside summer camp had no air conditioning or electricity. Cabin floors were often covered in grime, and cobwebs clung to the windows.But under new ownership, the 18.6 acres of Florida woods known as Camp Scoutcrest to memb...
Published: 02/23/18
BB&T cites ‘technical issue’ in outage affecting customers

BB&T cites ‘technical issue’ in outage affecting customers

Millions of BB&T customers were unable to access their accounts after a service outage which the bank blames on an equipment malfunction. The Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based bank posted a statement on its Twitter page saying the problem persiste...
Published: 02/23/18
Realtors are ‘every 10 feet’ in Florida but more want in the business

Realtors are ‘every 10 feet’ in Florida but more want in the business

ST. PETERSBURG — Tired of working as a yacht captain, Pancho Jiminez decided to get into real estate even though he knows it’s a highly competitive field in Florida."Realtors are every 10 feet around here," he says.Nonetheless, Jiminez is among 30 st...
Published: 02/23/18
Winn-Dixie sells 8 stores after report says owner could close 200 locations

Winn-Dixie sells 8 stores after report says owner could close 200 locations

A week after Bloomberg reported that Southeastern Grocers — the Jacksonville retailer that owns Winn-Dixie and other chains — could be closing up to 200 stores, the company announced it was selling off eight of its Louisiana locations.Texas’ Brooksh...
Published: 02/23/18