For millions of Americans, a trip to Florida represents a long-standing tradition — whether for spring break, a honeymoon, anniversary or family reunion, visitors from around the world choose our state to celebrate their special occasions.
During National Tourism Week, May 10-18, Florida and Pasco County celebrate the great American tradition of tourism and the vital role the industry plays in our state and local economy.
The tourism industry employs 7.5-million people in the United States. That is one of every eight people in the U.S. civilian labor force directly employed in travel and tourism. Spending by tourists in the United States averaged $2-billion a day, $84.5-million an hour, $1.4-million a minute and $23,500 a second.
More than 83-million travelers visited Florida last year. That's more than the populations of New York, California and Texas combined!
With the top activity for Florida visitors being shopping, it's not surprising that tourism spending last year reached nearly $60-billion and the tourism industry employed nearly 1-million people. Sales tax revenue alone from tourism topped $3.6-billion last year, dollars that helped build roads, support schools and pay for vital statewide programs.
Many of those visitors made their way to Pasco County as well. We collected more than $750,000 in tourist tax dollars in 2007 and we had a record-breaking start to 2008. The 2 percent tourist tax is collected from overnight stays in hotels, campgrounds and other short-term rentals but visitors also eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores and buy gas at our gas stations. They rent cars, pay tolls, buy groceries and visit local attractions. Just take a look at all the out-of-state license plates and you'll see how many out-of-town guests we have!
Tourism also provides thousands of jobs in Pasco. Accommodations of various types and food services make up more than 10,300 jobs in Pasco, while arts, entertainment and recreation comprise another 1,730 positions. One of the premiere tennis resorts in the world, Saddlebrook Resort, employs more than 800 people, making it one of the county's Top 10 employers.
The efforts to promote Pasco County as a sports destination are paying off, with major tournaments in tennis, lacrosse, cycling and running choosing this area for their events, bringing competitors and spectators from around the country to stay in our hotels and motels.
Once these visitors see how much our county has to offer, they are more likely to return to take advantage of our ecotourism, cultural heritage and other attractions.
The major hotel chains have noticed the growth as well, with Marriott's Residence Inn, Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn all opening new, state-of-the-art facilities in Pasco in the last year.
Pasco's position as an alternative to the theme parks continues with visitors seeking a unique experience at an affordable price. Whether they paddle a canoe down one of our scenic rivers, step out of a plane at Skydive City, stroll through our historic downtowns in Dade City, New Port Richey and Zephyrhills or step back in time at the Pioneer Florida Museum, Pasco County has something special for everyone.
Help us celebrate National Tourism Week by discovering for yourself the exciting adventures Pasco County has to offer. Invite friends and family from other parts of the state or country to discover Pasco's beauty along with you and create your own new traditions. For more information on Pasco County tourism, visit www.visitpasco.net or call 1-800-842-1873.
Jack Mariano is a Pasco County Commissioner and chairman of the Tourist Development Council.