TAMPA — Hillsborough County is poised to double down on its tourism marketing amid the pandemic.
After allocating two separate $1 million appropriations to Visit Tampa Bay from federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act dollars, the county now plans to spend an additional $4 million of tourist tax dollars to try to lure visitors to Hillsborough via digital advertising, social media, podcasts and other techniques.
The money, scheduled to be considered by the Hillsborough County Commission next week, would continue to fuel Visit Tampa Bay’s leisure travel campaign, highlighting outdoor activities, open spaces and reduced crowds at area amenities.
The campaign targets so-called active adventurers and culture seekers; adults with children; couples and 20-somethings and people of affluence. The initial focus was on the Southeast, but will be expanded to "any geography with intent to travel to a Florida destination,'' according to Visit Tampa Bay.
“If you’re ready to travel and you fit our demographics, we’re targeting you because you’re likely to travel right now,” said Santiago C. Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay.
The $4 million currently is in a tourist tax reserve account that had been banked for a rainy day, Ron Barton, assistant county administrator, told the Hillsborough Tourist Development Council Wednesday. But the hospitality and tourism industries are in "not just a rainy day, but a monsoon,'' he said.
For example, county hotels lost an estimated $190 million in annual revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic, from $699 million to $509 million, said Corrada.
The so-called reload and relaunch tourism campaign started with a soft opening in June, financed by $800,000 left over from 2019 tourist tax proceeds. Over the past two months, the county twice agreed to allocate $1 million in CARES Act funding to continue the effort, and Visit Tampa Bay carved $1 million out of its own budget to focus on the marketing as well.
Likewise, Corrada said the agency will use $4 million from its own budget to match the planned county appropriation to create an $8 million campaign to run from Jan. 1 through next summer.
Through Oct. 19, the campaign helped produce more than 111,000 hotel room nights and $13.8 million in revenue, according to Visit Tampa Bay estimates.
“That’s critically important,” said Corrada. “It’s making a difference for us.”