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Pinellas boosts convention budget

The Pinellas County Tourist Development Council will more than double spending to lure conventions and events business in 1993.

As the second year of the council's renamed St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau begins, tax money support for the convention venture will top $500,000, up from $200,000.

"That probably will grow some more, but it's still only about 5 percent of our total budget and conventions and events are only about 5 percent of our visitors," said Carol Ketterhagen, director of the bureau. "But now we finally have a full service convention services bureau."

It's still a fraction of the convention business budgets in Tampa and other cities like Miami and Orlando that have full-fledged convention centers.

Conceived last year, the effort is one part of a major rethinking of where Pinellas County spends resort tax collected on hotel bills for tourist promotion.

Most of the money still goes to advertise directly for tourists. But the $3-million ad budget of 1992 will not be increased in 1993 as the bureau looks for new ways to get more tourists.

The bureau also has hired Nancy Link, former general manager of the Heritage Hotel in St. Petersburg, as convention services coordinator.

About half the $500,000 will be advertising money diverted from consumer travel publications to build a presence in the meetings and convention business trade press and trade shows.

Meanwhile, several other chunks of the TDC budget, which took effect Oct. 1, still are being sorted out by the TDC and its bosses on the County Commission.

The TDC Wednesday recommended that $100,000 of the $150,000 doled out annually to arts, cultural, historical, sports and chamber of commerce programs will go to the Florida Orchestra. Four other groups will split the remaining $50,000.

Others ways are being investigated to build two new welcome centers and help stage four events ranging from a bowling tournament to a beach party publicity day for the Hall of Fame Bowl. Also, 10 beach cities still are lobbying heavily for about $149,000 to help keep their beaches clean every year.

In other action, the TDC learned:

The spring/summer tourist season was a slight improvement over the same season in recession-ridden 1991. The number of visitors increased 2.7 percent, occupancy was 64 percent and the average room rate rose about $1 to $49.19. While Orlando benefitted greatly from a summer air fare sale, Pinellas only held its own.

Pinellas spent most of its ad budget in the Northeast and Midwest to prime the spring/summer season. In fact, 50 percent of Pinellas visitors flew into Florida at Orlando, compared to 38 percent at Tampa International. The Tampa airport's share dropped from 46 percent last year.

In 1993 Pinellas officials will attend a travel show in Milan, Italy, marking the county's first attempt at cracking the Italian vacation market.