Pinellas economy took $2 billion hit from coronavirus tourism losses, bureau says

Visit St. Petersburg sets focus on recovery and a new fundraiser after year-end numbers show fiscal impacts from the pandemic.
Visitors walk through and shop at the new Marketplace area of the St. Petersburg Pier District, Friday, July 10, 2020. The market opened Friday.
Visitors walk through and shop at the new Marketplace area of the St. Petersburg Pier District, Friday, July 10, 2020. The market opened Friday. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Jan. 15, 2021

Analysts with Pinellas County’s tourism bureau estimate the tourism industry’s annual economic impact was down more than $2 billion during the most recent fiscal year because of the pandemic.

The latest report from Visit St. Pete/Clearwater said the fiscal year, which ended in October, showed that local tourism had an economic impact of $6.6 billion, rather than the nearly $9 billion it was previously. The study highlighted other bleak numbers, showing how much the pandemic has slowed the county’s leading economic driver. The payroll for tourism and hospitality employees is down $600 million in Pinellas County, the study said, and the amount of tourism tax collected on overnight stays was down $15 million.

Still, tourism leaders are optimistic. While the region’s tourism industry has lost, Tampa Bay is faring better than much of the country.

“We are starting to go uphill,” said Steve Hays, CEO of the Pinellas tourism bureau, during a press conference at the St. Pete Pier.

The Tampa Bay market has had the highest rate of hotel stays of any major U.S. market over the past year, according to tourism analyst firm STR, Inc. The average occupancy rate was about 51 percent, compared to a national average of about 44 percent, according STR.

Tourists have come to Tampa Bay to enjoy the beaches and outdoors, and to avoid crowds.

But those occupancy rates aren’t enough to support the region’s former hospitality workforce. On Thursday, tourism and county leaders gathered at the Pier to raise money for out-of-work hospitality employees.

Related: Tourism taxes for Visit Tampa Bay down 45 percent in October

Leisure and hospitality have shown the biggest job losses since the pandemic began. The most recent Florida jobs report showed the industry lost 187,500 jobs, or nearly 15 percent, for the first two weeks of January compared to the same period last year.

Pinellas County’s bed tax revenue often is used as a metric to measure the health of the local tourism economy. It’s a 6 percent tax charged on overnight stays. The revenue is used to fund tourism marketing and county projects. The county’s fiscal year ended in October and showed an 18.8 percent drop in bed tax collections compared to the previous year.

The most recent month’s data available is for November. It showed a 24 percent decrease in tax collections over the same period last year, about $1 million less. In October, Hillsborough County’s tourism tax collections were down 45 percent.