Though Tampa Bay tourism unaffected by coronavirus, some travelers worry

Some Tampa Bay residents have changed their travel plans out of precaution
Visitors take in the sun and sand at Clearwater Beach last year. Tourism officials say visits remain at record-breaking levels and have not been curtailed by coronavirus.
Visitors take in the sun and sand at Clearwater Beach last year. Tourism officials say visits remain at record-breaking levels and have not been curtailed by coronavirus.
Published Feb. 27, 2020|Updated Feb. 27, 2020

Despite the spread and growth of coronavirus in the past few weeks, Tampa Bay hasn’t seen a downturn in tourism.

Out of 24 million annual visitors to the Tampa Bay region, only half a million are international, said Santiago Corrada, the CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. For that reason, they haven’t seen the same dip as other regions more dependent on international tourism. On the contrary, he said hotel residency numbers for January and February have been record highs.

Leroy Bridges, a spokesman for Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, said they also haven’t seen any effect and continue to expect growth.

“This isn’t the first infectious disease that our industry has dealt with,” Corrada said.

Though local tourism is holding strong, some area residents who planned to go overseas have reconsidered their plans as the virus continues its spread.

Brandon resident Tony Anuszewski made the decision when he heard President Trump say “pandemic" in a news conference Wednesday night.

He, his wife and 4-year-old daughter had planned to visit Serbia to see a friend’s newborn son. The friends had tried for years to have a child, and Anuszewski was looking forward to seeing the baby. But he said it wasn’t worth the risk of contacting the virus through travel. He had planned to fly Swiss Air from Tampa to Zurich to Belgrade.

“This is heartbreaking for us to not be able to go over, but it’s just not worth it,” Anuszewski, 54, said.

He said though he may take health precautions as advised — like washing his hands and keeping clean — he can’t count on everyone who passes through an airport to do the same.

Tampa International Airport has no additional screening processes but will put up extra hand sanitizer stations and signs encouraging cleanliness, said spokeswoman Emily Nipps.

She said Florida airports are on high alert, but she doesn’t want to make people panic. There are currently no cases of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, in Florida.

“We want people to be aware and we want people to take regular precautions in avoiding germs,” she said.

Nipps said they don’t have any data right now showing an effect from the virus. The airport doesn’t have a lot of visitors from the areas of high impact, she said. Still, the staff gets updates from health officials multiple times a day.

Colleges with planned study abroad programs have also been monitoring the situation adjusting plans based on information from health officials.

Three USF students who were studying abroad in South Korea will come home in the next few days, said USF World Vice President Roger Brindley. Students studying in Florence, Italy, have also been offered the chance to come home and finish the rest of their program online, he said. Two USF students, who are Chinese, were interning in China and remain there under quarantine.

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The University of Tampa has changed two study abroad programs for the summer. One set to go to China will now go to Singapore, and one set to go to South Korea will go to Germany, said Eric Cardenas, the director of public information and publications.

“At this time, we are really focused on the health and security of our students and trying to make the best decisions we can with the very best information we have," Brindley said.

For Rick Newton, of Lutz, he and his wife made a decision to cancel travel plans about a month ago. His wife and daughter were set to visit Russia, his wife’s home country. But she’s pregnant, and didn’t think it was safe to go through airports and have 20 hour plus travel days.

“Life is normal right now, but we’re more aware of being around sick people,” he said.