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Tourism officials plan Super Bowl strategy

Fearing a repeat performance of a 1984 Super Bowl that didn't measure up to the hype, the Pinellas County tourist industry is laying its own plan to get a bigger slice of the pro football championship bounty when the contest returns to Tampa next January. Larger Tampa and Pinellas beach hotels profited handsomely from the 1984 event. But smaller beach hotels emptied as regulars in search of a quiet beach holiday were scared off by the threat of Super Bowl revelers who never appeared.

Most hotel owners relied on Tampa's host committee for advice last time. This time Pinellas industry leaders are linking up with Tampa organizers, but at the same time setting up their own promotion and room reservation operation.

All this comes at a time when the NFL is upset about price gouging by New Orleans hotels at last month's Super Bowl. Package tour wholesalers got the blame. Some of them called on Pinellas beach hotels last week.

Bay area hotels were lauded by the NFL for holding the line on prices in 1984. But some Pinellas hotels were unhappy with the way the Tampa host committee parceled out the business.

"My secretary's parents came down. They called the 800 number in Tampa. They were told the closest rooms were in Gainesville when Pinellas had hundreds of empty rooms," said County Commission and Tourist Development Chairman Charles Rainey. "They stayed in Gainesville."

"We held 75 rooms (at the Super Bowl committee's request) and ended up with 50 empty Super Bowl week," said Bud Zippin, managing partner of several south Gulf beach hotels.

The NFL estimated 35,000 hotel rooms will be needed this time.

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have about 40,000. The NFL has reserved 11,000 rooms in the Tampa Bay area for the Super Bowl, 3,016 of which are in Pinellas.

Pinellas will set up its own accommodation referral operation and toll-free phone. All Pinellas tourist advertising will promote Pinellas as a Super Bowl destination.

The Tampa Super Bowl host committee will hold a meeting of bay area hotel managers and sales directors to explain the NFL's housing allocation procedures. The session starts 1:30 p.m. today in the Radisson Bay Harbor Inn in Tampa. The Pinellas Tourist Development Council has invited about 50 hotel managers to its Largo office for a similar meeting at 9 a.m. March 7.