NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County’s Tourist Development Council will bring a pitch to county commissioners next week to increase the county tourist tax from four cents on the dollar to five in hopes of expanding its popular Experience Florida’s Sports Coast brand internationally.
A public hearing on the tourist tax increase is set for April 5.
“In order for us to stay competitive, we have to invest in marketing,” said Adam Thomas, director of the Florida Sports Coast Destination Management Organization. “We have to invest in the future, bringing more people to Pasco County.”
Tourism in Pasco continues to grow. Last year the county raised $3.6 million in tourist tax, up 36 percent from 2020, a year when COVID lock downs and travel restrictions tapped down tourism everywhere. The 2021 number was up 18.4 percent from 2019. There were 1.4 million visitors last year, an increase of 42 percent over the previous year and 31 percent over 2019.
Tourism officials point to the wider benefits of visitors to Pasco’s bottom line. The latest annual report shows that tourism generated $232 million in wages and salaries and supported 9,254 jobs.
“We need to keep doing what we’re doing,” Thomas said, but there also needs to be an expansion in the areas to which Pasco is marketing itself. The next step, he said, was taking the Experience Florida’s Sports Coast to an international audience.
Thomas said he expected that the first areas of expanded marketing are likely to be in Canada, Germany and Scandinavia. South America is also an emerging market, he said.
Pasco first began charging the tax in 1990, starting with a two percent tax on hotel rooms and short-term rentals. In 2017, the County Commission agreed to double that to four cents to pay for the construction of the Wiregrass Sports Campus through a bond.
Five cents on the dollar is the most Pasco can charge. Much larger counties that bring in far more tourist tax revenue can go up another penny, Thomas said.
It is important for Pasco to keep up momentum because all of Florida is expanding its tourism reach and Pasco needs to show what it has to offer, he said. Pasco recently began marketing its tourism opportunities beside its economic development offerings. Thomas said there have been recent examples of how that works and why he always argues that “everything starts with a visit.”
During a sports tournament last year, a member of Tiger Woods’ team visited Pasco with his child, who was participating in the event. That staff member was so impressed with what he saw in Pasco County that Woods decided to open a local PopStroke, his chain of golf entertainment centers that include high-concept putting courses, dining and playgrounds.
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“Tourism,” Thomas said, “is the purest form of economic development.”