NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco commissioners approved spending nearly $54,000 in tourism tax money to help promote 17 local events — but not before a few officials questioned whether some organizations are inflating the number of hotel stays their events generate.
Organizers for the events — which include festivals, art shows and races — had asked for about $93,000 to be used on out-of-county ads. The county had less to give, however, because of declining revenue and more money going to event sponsorship.
County tourism officials use a point-based formula to decide how much each event should get. Seventy of the 100 available points are based on how many hotel stays the event generates and how much organizers spend on out-of-county marketing.
Karen King, who sits on the Tourist Development Council, which made the grant recommendations, told commissioners she now doubts some of the hotel figures that organizers provided.
"A lot of the information was false that we received on the application," said King, sales director for Hilton Homewood Suites in Port Richey. "The amount of heads they say they're bringing into beds, they're not."
Commissioner Michael Cox said some organizations had done much better jobs at tracking hotel stays. He said Chasco Fiesta, which reported 223 room nights, and the West Pasco Chamber's Bike Fest, which reported 124 nights, had documented those stays on paper.
But he questioned the 590 hotel room stays that the Founders Day celebration in New Port Richey said it expects to generate, as well as the 1,000 hotel room stays that Dade City's Bug Jam said it would bring.
"I don't believe that's possible," he said. "To me, the information being put before us is not accurate."
"I don't know what's real or not," added Chairman Jack Mariano.
County officials are sponsoring a tourism summit for organizations Thursday. On the agenda: How to better track hotel stays.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the grants, with Mariano dissenting. Cox also got the commission's support to give the Chasco Fiesta an extra $2,776 to bring that event's total up to $15,000, making the county a "gold medal" sponsor that can participate in more marketing.