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Hillsborough tourism effort seeks $5.5 million boost

Tourist tax collections for the year grew 56% over 2021.
Visit Tampa Bay is seeking a $5.5 million increase in its marketing and advertising effort. Shown is the TECO Streetcar, a popular tourist vehicle between downtown Tampa and Ybor City.
Visit Tampa Bay is seeking a $5.5 million increase in its marketing and advertising effort. Shown is the TECO Streetcar, a popular tourist vehicle between downtown Tampa and Ybor City. [ Visit Tampa Bay ]
Published Dec. 8, 2022|Updated Dec. 8, 2022

TAMPA — Buoyed by a robust year of tourism business, Visit Tampa Bay is seeking a $5.5 million budget boost for advertising and marketing.

That’s one-third more than the agency received in the 2022 fiscal year, when Hillsborough County collected a record-setting $57.8 million in tourist taxes, a 56% increase over 2021.

“You support your strengths and what’s working and obviously this is working,” said Temple Terrace Mayor Andy Ross, a member of the Hillsborough County Tourist Development Council.

The funding request from Visit Tampa Bay president and CEO Santiago Corrada Jr. came after he detailed year-end tourism statistics for the council. The fiscal year data showed hotel occupancy at 72.3%, average daily room rates at $142.38, revenue per available room at $103.98 and overall hotel revenue approaching $1 billion. All the numbers are significantly higher than 2021.

“We’re setting records left and right,” said Assistant County Administrator Ron Barton.

The county charges a 6% tax on overnight accommodations to fund tourism promotion, cultural attractions and its three major sports facilities — Raymond James Stadium, Amalie Arena and George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Barton noted the county budgeted conservatively for the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years because of the unknown effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. That approach meant a significant carryover in available tourist tax funding. He said Visit Tampa Bay likely would be entitled to $5 million of that surplus in a traditional budget year anyway.

Corrada said the new dollars would be used to expand domestic and international marketing, including adding promotional efforts for the first time in Mexico and Colombia and expanding existing work in the United Kingdom, Germany and Brazil. The agency will set aside money to offer additional incentives to lure convention business, he said, and expand domestic advertising to compete against destination marketing organizations around the country.

“It shouldn’t be lost on anybody. When you invest money, you make money,” Corrada said. “And when you invest in us, there’s a return on that investment.”

The Tourist Development Council, an advisory body to the County Commission, approved the funding request unanimously. Final approval must come from county commissioners.