Pasco tourism took a 15 percent revenue hit from the coronavirus

Tourist development council hopes a new website will be a help in the new year
Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County
Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County [ Pasco County ]
Published Nov. 18, 2020

DADE CITY — For Pasco County tourism efforts, 2020 has been a year of ups and downs.

While the county got big boosts with the addition of premier venues to bolster their Florida Sports Coast marketing with the opening of the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus and the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis and Wellness Center, the arrival of the coronavirus has still taken a toll.

On Wednesday the Pasco County Tourist Development Council got their annual financial update from Joseph St. Germain, president of Downs & St. Germain Research. “As you can imagine,” he said, “COVID has had a negative effect.”

In the fiscal year that ended September 30, figures show the economic impact from tourism at $552.2 million, which is a 15.3 percent decrease from last year. Direct spending by those visitors topped $391 million and the number of visitors was 959,700, down from the previous year by 7.6 percent.

Also down was the collection of tourist tax, which is paid by visitors staying in hotels, motels and vacation rentals. The total for the last fiscal year was $2.6 million, a 14 percent decrease.

One way to help increase tourism in the coming months was to upgrade the tourism website that was launched last year. In a memo to the Tourist Development Council, Consuelo Sanchez, director of sports development and tourism, recommended spending $45,000 to hire a company to study the website and make recommendations on how to make it more effective.

“Florida’s Sports Coast created a brand-new website that launched on March 7, 2019 and was built and designed by The Zimmerman Agency. From the start, the destination management organization had concerns about the user experience of the website,” she wrote.

The Zimmerman Agency did just one review and attempt to improve the website but “since then, there was no effort made to improve the user experience,” Sanchez wrote.

Statistics show that the problem is that too many people click out of the site too soon which means it is not helping potential visitors find what they need. “Yes, we may have a beautiful website but we’re not meeting our users' needs,” said Kolby Gayson, communications manager for the county’s tourism organization.

But members of the Tourism Development Council were worried that $45,000 was too much for what they considered a “Band-Aid" to fix a flawed website. “I think it needs a complete overhaul,” said tourism council member Wendy Longman. She said she didn’t like the website platform, which uses WordPress.

The current site “is very, very user unfriendly and scattered,” Longman said.

“We need to repair it now while we’ve got COVID, now while things are slow,” said council member Chopper Davis.

The council voted unanimously to seek proposals for a new website which should come back to the council for review early next year, officials said.