TAMPA — The area’s hotels and motels want a more flexible marketing strategy to tout Tampa Bay during special events, such as playoff games in other cities or local concerts.
The Hillsborough County Hotel Motel Association plans to assess a fee on each hotel night in downtown Tampa and Ybor City, hoping to raise as much as $1 million annually for the “destination marketing” campaign.
The hotel motel association announced the new initiative during its 2015 annual meeting, held at the Westchase Golf Club.
While Visit Tampa Bay already markets this area for Hillsborough County, the tourism agency has to plan its ad campaigns months in advance, said association Executive Director Bob Morrison. His group wants the ability to swoop in with little notice and market Tampa in Chicago, Phoenix, Miami or wherever else the opportunity arises.
Such a campaign could have been conducted during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stanley Cup playoff run, said association President Jeff Weinthaler. The campaign could have landed in New York City or Chicago — where the Lightning played playoff games — to spotlight Tampa.
Visit Tampa Bay President and CEO Santiago Corrada, who sits on the hotel motel association board, applauded the proposal.
“It shows an industry willing to invest in what they strongly believe in,” Corrada said. “Their willingness to do this speaks volumes” and it’s almost certain to be successful, he said.
Halloween weekend in Tampa Bay would have been another opportunity for marketing the area, he said. Corrada pointed to hotel numbers for that weekend, which brought Taylor Swift to Raymond James Stadium and thousands of fans who came to see her.
Tampa hotels were at near capacity on Oct. 31 — 89.1 percent occupancy, a 34 percent jump over 2014. Revenue per available room, a key measure of hotel profitability, jumped 63 percent over the previous year.
Corrada said the new initiative could focus on specific events such as the Swift concert to bring more people here to rent more rooms.
The association has hired a firm to determine what the appropriate assessment fee would be, but Morrison said he expects it to be somewhere around $1.50 per night. Initially, at least, the fee would only be collected at properties in downtown Tampa and Ybor City, one of four tourism marketing districts in the county. There are about 17 properties in that district. Eventually, the assessment will go countywide.
By investing in this type of destination marketing, Morrison said, hoteliers can improve occupancy, increase revenues and continue to grow bed tax collections, which benefit Raymond James Stadium, Amalie Arena, the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and organizations like the Tampa Bay Sports Commission.
The bed tax, or tourist development tax, is a surcharge levied on any short-term rental, including hotel rooms.
This initiative would be the first of its kind in the state, said Weinthaler, general manager of the Embassy Suites Hotel Tampa Downtown Convention Center. “This will be our focus going in to 2016.”
Morrison said the study on determining what the assessment fee will be should be complete in the first quarter of 2016 and he hopes to begin collecting the assessment soon thereafter.
Already, Weinthaler said, Hillsborough County is seeing great tourism numbers and this campaign could help push them even higher.
“The question is how do the downtown and surrounding area hotels become big players, whether it is to market to convention groups, corporate group business, medical tourism, leisure travelers or cruise ship passengers. We need to supplement what we are already able to do in terms of marketing,” Morrison said.
Nobody expects people in Philadelphia or Boston to jump on the next plane after seeing the marketing campaign in their local stadium or arena, Morrison said. “But this will plant the seeds” for future trips to Tampa.