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Hillsborough cuts funding to Visit Tampa Bay

Tourist tax dollars are a top budget concern for Hillsborough County
The 26-story JW Marriott hotel is rising across the street from the Marriott Water Street Hotel near Amalie Arena. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
The 26-story JW Marriott hotel is rising across the street from the Marriott Water Street Hotel near Amalie Arena. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
Published Apr. 24, 2020

TAMPA — Hillsborough County is ending its multimillion-dollar subsidy to Visit Tampa Bay for the next five months, forcing the tourism bureau to eliminate nearly 40 full-time positions.

"There’s no lifeline here,'' said Visit Tampa Bay president and CEO Santiago C. Corrada.

The projected loss of tourism tax dollars from coronavirus-cancelled travel is one of the top concerns for Hillsborough County budget officials. They are scheduled to provide a financial forecast to county commissioners next week.

In the meantime, the county’s $1.3 million monthly payment to Visit Tampa Bay stops after April and will not be resumed for the rest of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. The county’s funding represents 85 percent of the agency’s budget, said Corrada. Visit Tampa Bay is no longer sending monthly invoices to its private partners including Busch Gardens and the Florida Aquarium, which are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Corrada said the bureau’s job cuts began the second week of March and continued until April 13. That included 25 full-time employees and 26 part-time and contract workers. In total, it represented a cut from the equivalent of 61 full-time employees to 23. The remaining staff took pay reductions ranging from 10 to 25 percent, he said.

For the 2019 calendar year, Hillsborough County hotels reported about $756 million in revenue. Tourist tax receipts totaled $35.4 million for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2019, Visit Tampa Bay reported previously.

Related: Visit Tampa Bay announces $1 billion revenue goal for 2025

County budget documents indicate the tourist tax, a 6 percent surcharge on overnight accommodations, had been projected to bring in $42 million this year. Now, that revenue "will likely experience a more significant decline than any other county revenue, and it is anticipated that the decline will be over an extended period of time,'' according to information to be presented to commissioners.

Corrada said hotel revenue for the month of April is down 85 percent from a year ago.

The county uses the first three cents of the tourist tax mostly for tourism promotion through Visit Tampa Bay. It also pays for the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, Visitor Information Centers, events and festivals, out‐of‐area marketing, a $2 million investment in Super Bowl 55 and other sports-related activities. A portion of the tax proceeds also are earmarked for maintenance of George M. Steinbrenner Field and Raymond James Stadium and upgrades and improvements to Amalie Arena. A newly-approved sixth cent of the tax also funds tourism promotion through Visit Tampa Bay, as well as improvements to the Tampa Convention Center and other facility upgrades.

The county also is eliminating its monthly payment to the Sports Commission for the next five months, and it has not yet made the $2 million payment to the Super Bowl 55 host committee, which is due Oct. 1.

Related: Visit Tampa Bay breaks tourism tax record for 2019

Corrada called tourist promotion an investment in the future since more visitors generate a need for additional hotels, spurring construction and service sector jobs and spending in the local economy.

"If we’re not there to infuse this visitation economy.'' Corrada said, "you’ll see a reversal.''

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