Hernando tourism takes a hit from event closures

With no mermaids swimming at Weeki Wachee and no blueberry festival in Brooksville, tourism tax collections fall.
ALICE HERDEN | Special to the Times
Brooksville Blueberry Festival held over the last weekend of April in downtown Brooksville brought many visitors locally and beyond.
ALICE HERDEN | Special to the Times Brooksville Blueberry Festival held over the last weekend of April in downtown Brooksville brought many visitors locally and beyond. [ ALICE HERDEN | SPECIAL TO THE TI | Alice Herden ]
Published April 9, 2020

BROOKSVILLE — The timing of the coronavirus pandemic couldn’t be worse for Hernando County’s tourism efforts, and the need to cancel big events and keep people out of crowds could mean losing a third of the county’s anticipated annual tourism tax revenue.

The now-canceled Brooksville Blueberry Festival had become a major draw each April as people from across Florida and beyond came to partake of blueberry-themed food and visit local businesses.

The state’s stay-at-home requirements also led to cancellations of the Hernando County Fair, the Stringbreak Music Festival, Friday Night Live in Brooksville and several Easter events. In addition, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Buccaneer Bay water park and the associated kayak launch, the FLG X ropes adventure course and Weekiwachee Preserve have closed.

Hernando’s tourism department has a $1.44 million budget for the current year, and its tourist tax revenue originally was estimated at $1.1 million.

"Based on some very rough estimates, I expect this to cost us about $360,000 in tourist development tax revenue,'' said Hernando County tourism manager Tammy Heon. "That’s assuming things pick up to at least 50 percent occupancy for August and September.''

“Based on the research and webinars I’m participating in, all indications at this time are for the tide to turn by August,” she said, adding "there is no real guarantee at this time.'' To save money, the county is canceling its tourism marketing efforts for the time being.

In addition, the county will not be able to begin setting aside $36,000 as it was hoping to for a Destination Development Fund, Heon said. That effort began after Hernando County commissioners last year identified the need for more large venue space for everything from festivals to weddings.

Other Hernando County and city of Brooksville departments are experiencing cost increases related to the pandemic and are tracking the extra employee pay and additional purchases for potential reimbursement from the federal government. Neither agency had a current tally available.

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