TAMPA — Visit Tampa Bay’s "relaunch and recovery'' tourism campaign is about to get a reload.
Hillsborough County plans to add $1 million for the leisure travel campaign that highlights outdoor activities, open spaces and reduced crowds at area amenities. The disbursement comes from federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act dollars.
The tourism campaign started with a soft opening in June, financed by $800,000 left over from 2019 tourist tax proceeds. Last month, the county agreed to allocate $1 million in CARES Act funding for the effort and now plans to double that commitment.
“Last year, tourism pumped nearly $7 billion into Tampa Bay’s economy. We are very lucky to work alongside a county that understands the value of tourism and the pivotal role it plays in its very own recovery,” Santiago C. Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, said in a statement.
The initial recovery campaign helped generated more than 45,500 hotel room bookings, producing more than $4.9 million in hotel revenue over the past four months, Visit Tampa Bay said. The new allocation will allow the campaign to expand its spending through the end of the year.
The funding, expected to be approved Wednesday by Hillsborough County commissioners, comes simultaneously with Visit Tampa Bay releasing its end-of-the-fiscal-year tourist tax data.
The county reached $30 million in tourist tax collections, a 14 percent decrease from 2019 when the county reaped a record-setting $35.4 million.
The coronavirus-triggered tourism drop, however, is substantially broader. The county charged a 5 percent tax on overnight accommodations throughout most of the 2019 fiscal year. The rate increased to 6 percent Aug. 1, 2019, making direct measurements between 2019 and 2020 somewhat convoluted.
A year-over-year comparison for the month of September provides a simpler contrast. Tourist tax collections for September 2020 were a little less than $1.58 million, a 45 percent decline from a year earlier.
Hotel occupancy for the fiscal year was 49 percent, a 34.6 percent decrease over 2019, according to Visit Tampa Bay.
The unprecedented drop in tourism also meant a significant budget cut for Visit Tampa Bay, the county’s tourism promotion agency. Earlier this month, commissioners approved a $6.9 million reduction in Visit Tampa Bay’s annual tourist-tax-financed budget from $16.4 million to $9.5 million. Traditionally, the county allocation accounts for about 85 percent of the agency’s budget.
In March and April, Visit Tampa Bay cut its workforce by 25 full-time employees and 26 part-time and contract workers. It represented a cut from the equivalent of 61 full-time employees to 23, and the remaining staff took pay cuts.
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Visit Tampa Bay, citing national market research firm Longwoods International, said traveler confidence is rebounding. The most recent tracking study of American travelers showed the percentage of those confident in traveling outside their communities jumped to 49 percent, the highest level since early May. The percentage of those confident in dining in local restaurants and shopping in local stores was up to 48 percent, the highest level since the low of 31 percent in mid-May. More than two-thirds of American travelers have travel plans in the next six months, it said.
Corrada said Hillsborough also is ahead of the recovery curve compared to competing markets. According to STR Inc., which tracks hotel bookings, hotel occupancy in Tampa Bay consistently ranked ahead of major U.S. cities such as Austin, Long Beach, Nashville, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.