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Tampa Bay tourism report card: Where the industry stands more than six months into the pandemic

What do the numbers show about how far off the tourism industry is from pre-pandemic numbers?
Romini Smith, works behind a glass barrier while checking in guests at the Hilton Tampa Downtown, on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020 in Tampa.
Romini Smith, works behind a glass barrier while checking in guests at the Hilton Tampa Downtown, on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Sep. 25, 2020|Updated Sep. 25, 2020

Hotels across the Tampa Bay area are still hovering below half full with industry analysts reporting about 45 percent occupancy rate at the end of last week.

That’s about on par with what local hotels saw across all of August, according to tourism analyst STR, Inc, and not far off from the nationwide average last month. There has been a slow increase in demand as people adjust to the realities of living through a pandemic. It has left Tampa Bay businesses relying more on locals than ever before.

Here’s a quick look at where things stand within Tampa Bay’s tourism economy, which hit an all-time low during the onset of the pandemic.

After a few months of an increase in the number of passengers going through Tampa International Airport, numbers dropped by nearly 27,000 people from July to August. About 568,000 people passed through the airport last month. Over that same period last year, about 1.7 million flew in and out of Tampa.

Related: Hotel Haya is about to find out what it’s like to open during a pandemic

Without the usual flow out-of-towners, both Hillsborough and Pinellas are collecting a fraction of their usual 6 percent tourist tax revenue on overnight stays. Hillsborough bumped its rate up from 5 percent in September of last year.

Both counties have lost nearly a quarter of their tourism tax revenue so far this year — the impact hasn’t been more severe because the local tourism market was on track to have a record-breaking year ahead of the pandemic.

The collected money is used to fund the county’s tourism marketing but also capital projects. The counties have not reported the tourism taxes for August, but in July Pinellas was down about 27 percent, collecting $4.2 million. Hillsborough was down about 47 percent, collecting $1.6 million. Last year, Pinellas County collected about $63 million in tourism tax revenue total and Hillsborough about $35 million.

Tampa Bay’s numbers, though meager, are still better than much of the rest of the country. Even the top-performers nationwide are still barely filling just over half their hotel rooms. Though better in comparison, Tampa Bay’s current rates aren’t at a level that they could sustain the local tourism industry for an extended period. That’s especially true in Hillsborough, which isn’t attracting as many local visitors as Pinellas County’s beach hotels.

Nearby in Orlando, the outlook is even bleaker. With travelers largely uninterested in reopened theme parks, Orlando’s massive hotel inventory was about 30 percent full last week.

Luxury hotels are only making about a quarter of what they did in August last year based on metrics that measure their revenue per available rooms, according to STR. Budget hotels fared slightly better with 38 percent of what their revenue rate was last August.

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