Column: Marketing to foreign travelers vital to Tampa Bay

Visitors to Clearwater Beach settle into the sand, a reminder of the value of tourism, particularly international tourism, to Tampa Bay and Florida. [Times files]
Visitors to Clearwater Beach settle into the sand, a reminder of the value of tourism, particularly international tourism, to Tampa Bay and Florida. [Times files]
Published June 12, 2019

During the recent Legislative session in Tallahassee, travel and tourism was at the forefront of discussions – and rightfully so. As an industry, tourism is integral to the continued economic success of our state. Our elected officials at all levels of government should be doing all they can to maximize the jobs and revenue tourism brings to Florida. Tampa Bay's tourism industry commends state leaders for supporting Visit Florida. Now it's time for their counterparts in the U.S. Congress to do their part.

Travel and tourism leaders across the Tampa Bay region met in May with U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Palm Harbor) to discuss how federal officials can protect and grow travel. Rep. Bilirakis has proven himself an ally and champion for our industry, most recently leading the way to secure funding for Brand USA, the national tourism marketing agency that Visit Tampa Bay has worked closely with for many years. It is critical that Florida's congressional delegation follow his lead and offer their support for this important organization.

Created in 2010, Brand USA is a public-private partnership that promotes U.S. destinations to travelers in markets around the globe. International visitors are the most lucrative guests we can welcome; they spend more and stay longer than domestic visitors. But they can also be some of the hardest to reach. Last year, Hillsborough County welcomed nearly 500,000 visitors from abroad who spent, on average, nearly 10 times more than U.S. visitors per person – an economic impact that far outstrips their portion of our 23 million visitors a year.

Brand USA partnerships allow Visit Tampa Bay to reach these markets and launch marketing initiatives we would not be able to do on our own. This year alone, we have worked with Brand USA to reach key travel markets in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Brazil, among others. We also added the treasures of Tampa Bay to Brand USA's Global Inspirations campaign, reaching audiences across the globe through print and digital articles featuring eye-catching imagery from here in Florida's Most dynamic destination.

In an ever-expanding global travel marketplace, Tampa Bay and Florida compete fiercely to stay top-of-mind with visitors or we will lose out to other destinations. Brand USA helps make that possible. Most importantly, it works. Every dollar Brand USA spends on marketing returns $32 to the U.S. economy. Since 2013, Brand USA's efforts have added 52,000 new jobs each year and generated $6.2 billion in federal, state, and local taxes. Visit Tampa Bay's return on investment is more than double that – a bang-for-the-buck our community would be loath to lose.

Brand USA is funded through a fee on in-bound international travel and private contributions. Even as it drives serious economic growth for Tampa Bay and destinations across Florida, its future reauthorization and funding are in question. This creates an uncertain future that could hurt the economy both here and elsewhere. We cannot afford to lose Brand USA. Tampa Bay's travel industry urges Florida's entire congressional delegation to join Rep. Bilirakis and make this a top priority. There is simply too much at risk for us all.

Santiago Corrada is president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay.