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Hillsborough tourism industry reverses downward slide

Hotel occupancy rates and tourist tax collections show visitors are returning.
Hillsborough County's tourist tax collections and hotel occupancy rates for February and March show an industry rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hillsborough County's tourist tax collections and hotel occupancy rates for February and March show an industry rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic. [ Visit Tampa Bay ]
Published May 14
Updated May 14

TAMPA — The economic bonanza from football’s Super Bowl 55 in February is inspiring another sports term in Hillsborough County’s tourism industry: Rebound.

Instead of collecting misfired basketballs, the tourism industry is corralling an increasing number of visitors. Tourist tax and hotel occupancy data reported Friday to the Tourist Development Council showed the nearly year-long tourism slowdown from the pandemic is reversing.

Tourist taxes collected in February, when Super Bowl 55 was played in Raymond James Stadium, totaled just shy of $4 million, the highest total since February 2020. Numbers were also strong in March, with the county collecting $3.875 million in taxes on overnight accommodations, compared to $2.7 million in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit mid-month.

“Those are two strong months,” said Ron. Barton, assistant county administrator for economic prosperity. “... Basically, we’re rebounding. That’s good news, we’re not back to the pre-pandmeic level, but we’re on our way.”

For the first seven months of the fiscal year, the county tourist tax collections total just less than $17.7 million. A year ago that seven-month total was more than $24 million, a record pace that halted with the economic shutdown. The county collected just $6 million in tourist taxes over the final five months of the last fiscal year.

Related: Super Bowl weekend filled Hillsborough hotels to 92 percent capacity.

Hotel occupancy rates also signified a rebounding tourism industry. The county’s hotels had an occupancy rate of 70.7 percent for March, below the statewide average of 71.2 percent, but still 40 percent higher than a year ago.

“Yes, the recovery is well under way,” said Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, the county’s tourism promotion agency.

The number of visitors, Corrada noted, do not include international travelers or cruise industry passengers. Conventions are operating at in-person capacities of about 60 percent with the rest meeting virtually, he said.

“Think about those factors coming into play,” said Corrada. “We’re headed in a good direction.”

The occupancy rates, compared to a year ago, are skewed slightly, Corrada said, because several new hotels opened over the past year, bringing the number of rooms in the county to 25,500.

The improved financial picture will allow the county to resume prior financial commitments for capital improvements to the Tampa Convention Center, Plant City sports complex and other venues that had been put on hold during the pandemic. Money for those projects will be included in the Tourist Development Council’s 2022 budget that will be voted on in August and become effective Oct. 1, Barton said.