$3 billion tourism industry celebrated in Tampa

05/08/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Tampa Bay area. The region’s tourism marketing team is trying to make sure Hillsborough County continues to grow its slice of the pie. During a luncheon Wednesday celebrating tourism week in Tampa, new Tampa Bay & Company president and CEO Santiago Corrada said he wants to popularize Tampa as a destination for visitors.

“We have a great region here and our biggest obstacle is that a lot of folks don’t know what a great region it is. So, we have to really get out there and sell this destination because we have because we have all of the perfect assets here to bring anyone to our destination.”

Tampa Bay & Company is re-branding the tourism marketing campaign in the area. Corrada will release details later this month, but said the facelift incorporates ideas from other tourism hotspots.

“We have to be creative. We have to go to different places and look for different types of business. So, internationally as well as domestically – it’s getting that word out about Tampa.”

Corrada used to be the city of Tampa’s chief of staff. The luncheon at the A La Carte Pavillion near Rocky Point was emceed by radio personality Jack Harris.

“It’s just getting better all the time – 66,800 tourism related jobs in our community. Think about that, 66,800.”

Tampa Bay & Company’s Corrada said that’s one of the reasons marketing Tampa’s tourism appeal is crucial.

“Our industry is so important to our economy when you talk about $2.3 billion in wages and the amount of jobs that are created through tourism – it’s hugely important to our economy and so, it’s the foundation of our economy here in the region.”

Hundreds of business leaders in the tourism industry were entertained by performers from Busch Gardens. The theme park is one of Tampa’s most popular tourist destinations. It also draws revenue from locals. A marketing campaign across the Bay in St. Pete and Clearwater focuses more on its appeal to beach goers and arts enthusiasts, but Tampa Bay & Company’s Corrada said Tampa can use that to their advantage.

“You know, we have a great convention center, a great airport, great sports venues, great museums, great dining, the hotels – so, you know what, we’re complimentary to each other and that’s the way we need to think about it and lots of other places are like that. You know if you think of South Florida – you have Miami Beach with the beaches and then you have the cosmopolitan feel of the city of Miami. If you go into the bay area – the San Francisco Bay area you have those kinds of same dynamics. So, we need to start thinking that way that we really, really compliment each other.”

Besides creating jobs, Hillsborough County Commission chair Ken Hagan said tourism also pumps more than $3 billion into the local economy.

“And there is a sexy side to all of this – 2012 was a fantastic year with nearly 15 million visitors coming to Tampa Bay. More than $21 million in tourist development tax revenues were generated, over a 10% increase from 2011 and we host some of the most prestigious events in the world.”

The most prominent example of that is the Republican National Convention in downtown Tampa last summer. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn still champions the political spectacle as a success that drew millions of visitors.

“And I can tell you that throughout the course of that week, in spite of all that was going on, in spite of the fact that there was a hurricane bearing down on us, we pulled that event off with no drama, two arrests, no property damage and they left this community saying amazing things about what an experience they had. Wherever I would go, they would say to me, ‘Mayor, this town is amazing, your people are amazing; I have never felt so welcomed in my life.’”

Nearly half of the $21.5 million from the hotel bed tax last year is used by Tampa Bay & Company to market the area, service debt and run the Tampa Convention Center. The public-private partnership also uses money to support sporting events, community activities and other attractions.

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