Tampa’s Sunset Music Festival generated $16 million in spending: report

The festival estimated 20,000 fans came from out of town, booking more than 9,100 hotel nights here.
Nitti Gritti and Wuki perform on the main stage during day two of the Sunset Music Festival on May 30, 2021.
Nitti Gritti and Wuki perform on the main stage during day two of the Sunset Music Festival on May 30, 2021. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published July 19, 2021|Updated July 19, 2021

Tampa’s first major concert festival of the coronavirus pandemic brought millions in spending and revenue to the area, according to an economic impact study conducted by event organizers

This year’s Sunset Music Festival, held May 29 and 30 at Raymond James Stadium, sold 32,231 tickets and likely generated more than 9,000 hotel stays, yielding what the festival pegged at $16 million in direct economic impact.

The study ups that figure to $32 million when factoring in indirect impact, which includes business-to-business and ripple-effect spending, although that’s harder to quantify.

But the hotel numbers track with what Hillsborough County as a whole experienced over Memorial Day weekend.

Hotel occupancy from May 28 to May 31 averaged 80.6 percent, up 13.5 percent from Memorial Day 2019, according to data from industry tracker STR. Inc. provided by Visit Tampa Bay — this, despite hotel room inventory in the county increasing by nearly 3,000 rooms during that time.

Sunset regularly draws an international crowd; a ZIP code sales report showed that nearly 71 percent of all of this year’s tickets were sold outside the Tampa Bay area, including to fans in all 50 states and six countries. That translated to more than 20,000 out-of-town guests generating around 9,152 hotel stays.

The high number of non-local attendees has a lot to do with the fact that the festival happens on the same weekend every year, said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, which analyzed the festival’s sales data and helped project hotel numbers, as it has for big sporting events.

“People can plan on it, travel in for it, and make it an annual tradition,” Higgins said.

He said the study’s estimates of four guests per room, staying an average of 1.5 nights per stay, was conservative yet reasonable based on the festival’s younger demographics.

“We certainly wanted to take a conservative approach,” he said. “But it’s (an event) that’s been here year after year, and we felt good about the projections.”

The festival estimated that including hotels, out-of-towners would spend around $160 per day, while locals would spend $110. Over two days, that translates to nearly $9.4 million in spending. Taxable sales of tickets, merchandise and food and drinks generated another $7 million, according to the study.

Overall, taxable hotel revenue in May in Hillsborough County was $64 million, according to Visit Tampa Bay. In May 2019, it was $57.8 million.

The Sunset Music Festival has conducted economic impact surveys before, partially to counteract negative press brought by drug arrests and noise complaints. In 2016, the year after two attendees died following drug overdoses, the festival commissioned a study that found it brought 12,500 hotel stays and a direct economic impact of $20 million.