D.T. Minich, Convention & Visitors Bureau director, tells the Tourist Development Council that the county is close to reaching the $30 million mark in bed tax collections Oct. 16. If the $30 million mark is reached, Pinellas will become a high impact tax county – one of only six in the state.
Screenshot by SUZETTE PORTER
Dennis Long, longtime member of the Pinellas County Attorney’s Office, takes a moment Oct. 16 to say good-bye to members of the Tourist Development Council at his last meeting before he retires.
CLEARWATER – Pinellas County’s tourist development tax, aka the bed tax, is on point to break an all-time record.
With August revenue totaled, the 5 percent tax collected on accommodations rented for less than six months for 2013 is up to $28.8 million. And there’s one more month to go.
“We’re right on track to break $30 million,” D.T. Minich, Convention & Visitors Bureau director, reported at the Tourist Development Council’s Oct. 16 meeting.
If the $30 million mark is reached, Pinellas will become a high impact tax county – one of only six in the state.
“Then we’ll move into a whole new realm,” he said.
Qualifying as a high impact tax county would allow the TDC to collect a 6 percent tourist tax, providing more money to pay for the cost of maintaining a high quality destination.
TDC tax funds the Tourist Development Council and Convention & Visitors Bureau. Currently 54 percent of the money collected goes to pay for marketing and operations, 19 percent for debt service, 9 percent for beach nourishment, 2 percent goes to the tax collector and 16 percent is set aside for reserves.
Dennis Long with the county attorney’s office explained that once the county qualifies it would remain a high impact tax county even if collections fall short of $30 million in subsequent years.
“You don’t have to re-qualify each year,” he said.
“$30 million is a big benchmark,” Minich added.
Tampa Bay’s beaches
Mary Delong with BVK Advertising reported on results of a survey done to find out the effect of Visit Tampa Bay’s new name on local tourism.
“St. Petersburg-Clearwater combined to make a better destination by a large margin,” she said.
The only exception was dining.
“All the most important attributes for a warm-weather destination except for dining, (St. Petersburg-Clearwater) was considered best,” she said.
First time and potential visitors as well as returning visitors were asked a set of questions to determine perception between the two markets. Pinellas was the clear winner for its beaches with a brand personality that says fun, friendly, clean, family, fresh, vibrant and exciting, Delong said. Tampa didn’t have a clear brand, but people identified with Busch Gardens, modern, urban and business-oriented.
Tampa complemented Pinellas with its professional sports offerings, its city-urban vibe and the airport, she said. However, St. Petersburg-Clearwater was “better in every way,” according to those surveyed.
The only misconception noted in the report is that visitors don’t discern that Tampa Bay’s beaches aren’t located in Tampa, but instead are across the bridge in Pinellas County.
Minich pointed to a couple of events that could boost the area’s rating for dining, thanks to two $500,000 grants from BP and a partnership with the Home Shopping Network.
The St. Pete & the Bay Area Festival of Food, Wine and the Arts, Friday through Sunday, Nov. 15-17, will bring in 18 celebrity chefs for three days of culinary delights, featuring Gulf seafood.
“This is going to change the perception,” he said.
Another festival in Clearwater planned for 2014 will center on the same theme, making it clear that Pinellas does have fine dining to offer its visitors.
David Downing, CVB assistant director, said BP’s grants were very specific in their requirements.
Events paid for with BP money has to have a seafood component, Minich said.
“They have to promote the quality of Gulf seafood,” he said.
Dennis Long retiring
CVB members said good-bye to their longtime mentor from the county attorney’s office. The Oct. 16 meeting was the last for Dennis Long, who is retiring.
“I’m happy I’m retiring,” Long said, adding that he had enjoyed working with the TDC councilmembers.
“It’s been one of the highlights of my tenure,” he said.
He pointed to “a lot of challenges and a lot of successes. Some I’ve enjoyed very much.”
He predicted that the TDC would continue to be successful.
“I’m sure of that,” he said.
“I’ve learned a lot from Dennis,” Minich said. “… I’ve never had a county attorney quite like him. He’s a pro and a master. I’ll miss your sense of humor and your style.”