Pinellas County tourism in 2012 can be summed up in three words: Best. Year. Ever.
The county had a record number of visitors, including a record number of first-time visitors, who generated a record economic impact. That's according to Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, the county agency responsible for promoting Pinellas tourism.
But the news is even better than that to the agency's director, D.T. Minich. Why? The gains were seen across the board — European and domestic visitors, room rates and hotel occupancy levels — signaling that most tourism sectors did well in 2012.
"Every market was up, and that's typically not the case," Minich said. "You'll see one market up and one market down. But for every single market to be up is huge.
"That means we're getting market share across the board. We're not gaining it in one way and losing it in another."
A record 5,435,000 people visited Pinellas County in 2012, according to Research Data Services Inc. That's 200,000 more people, or 4 percent more people than visited in 2011. That also includes 1.1 million first-time visitors to Pinellas' beaches, another new record.
Room rates rose by 8 percent in 2012, the agency said, nearly doubling the rise in statewide average room prices of 4 percent. Occupancy was also strong, 70 percent in the Pinellas area compared to 65 percent in the rest of the state.
The estimated economic impact of tourism in 2012 was valued at $7.8 billion. That's $521 million more than Pinellas tourism generated in 2011, setting another new record for the county.
Pinellas County had already reported that it collected a record $28.7 million in bed tax revenue in the previous fiscal year, which ended in September 2012. But that was for the fiscal year. The 2012 tourism numbers are for the calendar year, and paint a much richer picture of the state of the county's tourism industry, Minich said.
"The bed tax is kind of the bottom line," he said. "But this is more in-depth as to who came, where they came from, the strength of the markets, those kinds of things."
There was no one factor that led to the record year, Minich said, not even the Republican National Convention held Aug. 27-30. Pent-up demand for vacations as the economy improved and a continued focus on marketing the area to Europe were also key.
Florida tourism also enjoyed a record 2012. There were a record 89.3 million visitors last year, or a rise of 2.3 percent, according to the state's tourism marketing arm Visit Florida.
Meanwhile Pinellas bed tax revenue kept growing in the first four months of the current fiscal year. From October to January, the county collected $7.6 million, a 12 percent increase.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3404.
Increase in visitors to Pinellas in 2012 over 2011
Increase in room rates, doubling rise in statewide average prices
Increase in economic impact of tourism in 2012 over 2011