Editorial: Tourism soars in Tampa Bay

Published Jan. 27, 2017

Tourists flocked to Florida last year despite Zika, toxic algae and a slow economic recovery. Pinellas County tourism numbers also skyrocketed, a credit to smart marketing that keeps our beaches and amenities on the minds of Northern neighbors. With local tourist tax dollars working so well to keep visitors coming, there's little reason to keep adding to the Visit Florida slush fund with public money.

Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the Pinellas tourism bureau, raked in $49.5 million in tourism development taxes in fiscal 2016, and all signs point to a continuing uptick this year. Hillsborough collected $26.9 million, the third record-breaking year in a row. Officials say they're focused on existing markets like Chicago and New York — not just residents but the millions who visit those cities too. The campaigns tend to revolve around two themes: water and weather, clearly an effective strategy.

More than 85 million tourists vacationed in Florida last year, even amid bleak headlines about the Zika virus, the mass shooting in Orlando and algae blooms in South Florida. Does anyone really think Pitbull's $1 million deal with Visit Florida is the reason? And Gov. Rick Scott wants more money for Visit Florida this year.

Tourism is humming in Tampa Bay with promotions paid by resort taxes on hotel rooms. There's no justification for asking Florida taxpayers to pony up even more.