Pasco County drew more than 1 million tourists in the 2019 fiscal year, and the county’s annual bed tax collections topped $3 million for the first time.
Those visitors also spent an estimated $462.6 million during their stays on hotels, restaurants, shopping, entertainment and attractions.
The data, contained in a visitor tracking study by the Tallahassee firm Downs & St. Germain, estimated the tourism industry’s economic impact to Pasco County at more than $652 million.
"I was excited when I first saw the numbers,'' said County Commissioner Mike Moore, chairman of the Pasco Tourist Development Council. “People look at the destinations that have come to the area. That’s a big boost. Destinations bring more visitors.’’
Over the past four years, the AdventHealth Center Ice complex, Tampa Premium Outlets mall, TreeHoppers Aerial Adventure Park, the seasonal Scream-A-Geddon haunted house attraction, the county-owned SunWest Park and the privately operated Lift Adventure Park all opened for business and rolled out the welcome mat for visitors. They joined the existing draws including SkyDive City, the downtown district in Dade City and amateur sports competitions.
Meanwhile, nine new hotels opened since 2015 bringing the county’s occupancy capacity to more than 3,600 rooms.
That helped push the county’s tourist tax collections — a 4 percent surcharge on overnight accommodations — to more than $3 million. Proceeds are used to market the county to visitors. They also finance a capital program, including new boat ramps in west Pasco and a $45 million field house and hotel under construction in the Wiregrass Ranch area of Wesley Chapel.
Overall, visitors accounted for more than 1.2 million room nights in paid accommodations. Just as notably, however, is that only 37 percent of the visitors stayed overnight in a hotel. Sixteen percent stayed with family or friends and the study found 36 percent were day-trippers who didn’t spend the night in Pasco.
“While they are not staying overnight, they are spending their money,’’ Joseph St. Germain, president of the consulting firm, told the Tourist Development Council recently during a meeting in Dade City.
The visitor tracking report was based on 2,358 personal interviews at parks, hotels, attractions and events over the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2019, the conclusion of the county’s fiscal year. Under a $48,000 contract with the county, Downs & Germain conducted a similar study during the 2018 calendar year. That report showed $436 million in direct spending from 965,000 visitors.
The most recent data coincides with the county’s tourism effort, rebranding itself as Florida’s Sports Coast.
Among the findings:
* A visitor typically spent nearly six days in Pasco. A quarter of them were visiting the county for the first time, and more than 30 percent had visited more than 10 times.
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* The most common reason for coming to Pasco County — 24 percent — was a visit with friends and families. Fourteen percent came for a sporting event, 9 percent came for vacation and a like number came for a special occasion.
* Forty-two percent of the visitors were Floridians while five others states — New York, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee — accounted for a combined 18 percent of the tourists. Six percent came from Canada.
* Eighty-three percent of the tourists drove to the county while 15 percent flew into Tampa International Airport.
* Tourism supported more than 7,800 jobs and generated $168 million in wages, the study estimated.
St. Germain declined to speculate on what 2020 may hold for the tourism industry. Moore, however, was enthusiastic. He noted the planned July completion of the Pasco County indoor sports complex at Wiregrass Ranch that will be operated by RADD Sports.
The complex on 80 acres north of State Road 56 will feature a nearly 100,000-square-foot indoor gymnasium, two outdoor fields (initially) and an adjoining hotel. Financed by the county’s tourist tax proceeds, the center is intended to be a centerpiece of the county’s sports-tourism efforts. When completed, the building will be capable of housing eight basketball or 16 volleyball courts, plus other amenities. It is expected to lure those sports, plus cheerleading, martial arts and other indoor competitions.
"In the economy, what’s not affected (by a potential downturn) is what our focus is on — the sports activities,'' said Moore. "The tournaments will still come. The hockey tournaments will still be played (at the AdventHealth Center Ice). Wesley Chapel won’t be affected.''