Hillsborough County hotels continue to be hit harder by the pandemic than their counterparts in Pinellas, as both counties deal with tourism slowdowns.
Visit Tampa Bay, which handles marketing Hillsborough County as a destination, announced Monday that its tax collection on overnight stays was down 45 percent in October compared to the same month last year. Meanwhile, Pinellas’ collection was down just 13 percent in the same period. Both counties collect a 6 percent tax on overnight stays.
“The good news is we have seen steady progress,” said Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada. “We hit rock bottom in April and since April, we’ve seen steady improvement. … We’re cutting that negative gap month after month.”
October is the most recent month of bed tax data available. It’s also the start of both tourism bureaus’ fiscal year. Hillsborough County collected about $1.7 million and Pinellas about $3.5 million in October, both the highest amounts collected by each since the pandemic began in March.
“We are celebrating the fact we did better than we thought we did,” said Steve Hayes, the CEO of Visit St. Petesrburg/Clearwater. “I think people are ready to get out and explore, even if it’s in their own backyard or just a short drive.”
The money collected through the tourism tax funds each agency but also county projects such as stadium renovations and beach nourishment.
Despite the major dip in tax revenue, Hillsborough hotels have about had just a 28 percent dip in occupancy rates, according to data the agency uses from industry analyst STR, Inc. When compared to other destinations that don’t have beaches, Hillsborough is performing well, Corrada said.
He pointed to cities like Austin and Nashville, which have occupancy that dropped by about 44 and 46 percent, respectively, over October. Pinellas’ occupancy rate is down about 21 percent.
Both counties have busy weekends, but a huge slow-down happens during the weekdays because business travel has largely not resumed. That has been a large hit to Hillsborough County, which usually relies on traffic from the convention center.
“When you put it all in perspective, we’re missing key ingredients to the destination soup,” Corrada said of Hillsborough County. “We’re missing conventions, big events and large crowds.”
So far it seems as though Florida’s most-recent surge in COVID-19 cases hasn’t dramatically reduced the number of visitors, which has been trending upward since hitting record lows in March and April. Hayes said Pinellas hoteliers largely had full rooms Thanksgiving week.
Once November data is available, Hayes said it will be clearer how or if the number of local COVID-19 cases have a strong correlation with the industry’s bounce back.
Since Saturday, there have been 8,958 new cases and 84 deaths reported in Florida. Since the pandemic began, 20,133 people have died from compilations related to the virus, according to the Florida Department of Health.
“We have taken safety precautions in Tampa, Hillsborough County, St. Pete and Clearwater,” said Corrada. “We are a very attractive destination. We have never been an overly touristy area where you felt crowded or you felt like you didn’t have enough space.”
For now, both local tourism leaders say the vaccine’s arrival to the country, and Tampa Bay, has given them an optimistic outlook. They think it will give travelers more optimism, too.
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