Local tourism officials are wagering that Floridians aren’t ready to throw in the beach towel just yet.
Riding on a wave of a successful first half of the year, both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are planning ad campaigns to keep tourists flowing into the area between now and the end of the year. Many of them will be from right here or elsewhere in Florida.
With Hillsborough County hotel revenues up nearly 30 percent compared with the same week last year, Visit Tampa Bay will roll out its fall campaign on a high note today, hoping to fill even more rooms over the next few months.
“We’ve had a phenomenal year,” said Visit Tampa Bay President and Chief Executive Officer Santiago Corrada. “We are expecting and pretty sure we are going to hit record numbers here at the end of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. In 2007, we collected $21.7 million in bed tax money. This year, we are probably going to come in at $23 million. We are really excited about some of the growth here.”
Pinellas, too, is seeing great numbers.
“We have experienced pretty amazing growth in our average daily room rate,” said David Downing, interim executive director of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater. “It was up about 8 percent year over year to somewhere in the neighborhood of $129 a night.” That speaks directly to growing demand, he said.
“We are on par for another record year,” Downing said. “We passed the $30 million point last year in bed tax and if things go well for the remaining three months, we will end up around $33 million for bed tax collected in 2014. Last year, Pinellas got the ability to levy a 6th cent on bed tax. The county commission has opted not to do that yet, but that still remains an option.”
Just in August, Hillsborough County has seen a 12.1 percent increase in occupancy over 2013, Corrada said. “That is a direct result of bringing in 25,000 shriners, the Prince Hall Shriners, a national organization.” And the group liked this area so much, it has already booked for 2016.
“We have never done a fall marketing campaign,” Corrada said. “We are going to pilot it from September to November. It’s called Falling in Love with Tampa Bay.
“It is a great time of the year as far as climate,” Corrada said. “We’ll be promoting all of our great fall events,” including Howl-O-Scream, Busch Gardens’ big fall event, Zoo Boo at Lowry Park Zoo, Oktoberfest and Brews by the Bay. “There’s also an incredible one we want to market called Conga Caliente, happening at Al Lopez Park. It’s a quality music festival that already draws over 10,000 people.”
“Traditionally, this is the time of year we wind down,” Downing said. “We are extending our fall campaign this year, targeting Orlando and greater Tampa Bay. October is one of the most beautiful months we have, so we’re continuing with our Live Amplified campaign.” Florida residents love the Gulf beaches so much, he said, that they are willing to rent a room for the weekend, even though the hotels are not far from home.
In October and November, Visit St. Pete-Clearwater will begin campaigning further north, in hopes that when the cool weather moves into areas like Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Hartford-New Haven, residents there will start planning winter trips to Florida.
In Pinellas County, the Dalí Museum is hosting a Pablo Picasso exhibit that runs from Nov. 8 to Feb. 16 and features Picasso pieces from 25 museums.
“To have something of that stature, we will be supporting that in the New York Times travel magazine, on Trip Advisor, we will have a segment on Daytime and on NPR, and advertising at the baggage claim at Tampa International Airport,” Downing said.
Visit St. Pete will also promote the movie “Dolphin Tale II” in conjunction with promotions for the Clearwater Aquarium. “We have done complete wraps on the trams at Tampa International Airport to promote the film. “We will also have hang tags in every Hertz rental car in Orlando and in Tampa. And for the fun part, we will have a selfie stand at Tampa International where the kids can get their picture taken with Winter the dolphin.”
In Hillsborough, Visit Tampa Bay will be promoting gender-based getaways, like “mancations and gals’ getaway,” Corrada said. “We’re doing a lot of this through digital marketing. That’s the rage now.”
In September and October, Visit Tampa Bay has booked The Institute of Navigation with more than 1,400 visitors and 3,800 room nights,” said spokesman Kevin Wiatrowski. The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association is also coming, with 2,000 visitors, booking nearly 4,000 room nights.
The Association for the Healthcare Environment is coming with 900 visitors, booking nearly 3,700 room nights, he said. And the big one, the National Marine Manufacturers Association is coming in September with 2,600 visitors, booking more than 6,100 room nights.
“We want to carry the momentum forward,” Corrada said.