TAMPA — Hillsborough County generated more than $600 million in hotel revenue last year, making it one of just nine counties to pass the threshold for becoming a "high-impact" tourism destination in Florida.
With the designation, the county is now allowed to raise the tax on overnight stays from 5 percent to 6 percent.
"We haven't added Harry Potter over here, we haven't added Star Wars, and we haven't built any beaches that I'm aware of," Santiago Corrado, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, said in announcing the news on Monday. "Yet, we were able to accomplish this substantial growth."
The county generated about $644 million in taxable hotel revenue last year — or about $700 million before taxes.
That sent bed-tax revenue past Visit Tampa Bay's $30 million goal at $32.3 million — an 8 percent increase compared to 2016. Pinellas County beat the same threshold in 2014.
Corrado said Hillsborough boasted record-breaking hotel stay numbers nearly every month of 2017. January, especially, when the College National Football Championship drew thousands of Clemson and Alabama fans to Tampa. Hotel revenue was up 36 percent that month compared to January of 2016.
April and June did not break any records, but Corrado said they were still steady months. Each had only a small percentage dip in hotel revenue compared to 2016.
The consistent growth comes ahead of the areas first hotel boom since the 1990s — like an anticipated 500 rooms tied to the planned Water Street Tampa development on the edge of downtown.
Lou Plasencia, CEO of Tampa's The Plasencia Group hotel sales and consulting firm, said the demand for the new rooms is there — and the Water Street development will only help it grow.
"The community has also developed on its own," Plasencia said. "Hillsborough has become a very attractive, walkable area. You may not have beaches, but you have a downtown that really matured."
Visit Tampa Bay set the goal to surpass $30 million in collected bed tax money five years ago.
STR, Inc., which tracks hotel market data, estimates revenue per available room in Tampa Bay grew 30 percent, compared to 18 percent for the entire state, in that time period.
The other counties considered "high-impact destinations" outside of Tampa Bay are:
Miami-Dade, Volusia, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, and Broward counties.
Tampa has focused its pull on large-scale events and conventions, while also promoting its pedestrian-focused Riverwalk and burgeoning speciality bar and restaurant scene.
"My firm works all over the country," Plasencia said. "It's nice to see it coming together in our own community. It's about time."
Contact Sara DiNatale at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @sara_dinatale.