CLEARWATER — Sunny with a chance of rain is the analogous prediction for local tourism this season.
That is according to the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce 2019 Tourism Forecast Breakfast at the Marriott Suites Clearwater Beach on Sand Key held Aug. 21.
Robin Miller, chief executive of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, introduced each of the three guest speakers: Dana Young, chief executive of Visit Florida; Robert Dow, president and chief executive of US Travel; and Carroll Rheem, VP of research and analytics at Brand USA. The overview put local tourism in perspective from the vantage points of Tampa Bay, the state of Florida and the United States.
The Visit Florida presentation by Young focused on how vital tourism is to the state. Visit Florida is the marketing corporation for the state.
As Florida’s top economic driver, “tourism brought in 69.7 million visitors the first six months of 2019,” said Young. “Each Florida household saves $1,500 per year in taxes paid by tourism.”
Other statistics Young quoted included that every 81 visitors equals one Florida job. She said that for every dollar invested in Visit Florida, there is a $2.15 return on investment and that people exposed to Visit Florida’s digital advertising in 2018 were almost twice as likely to visit Florida and have a more favorable view of the state.
Some of the positive indicators from Visit Florida on the Tampa Bay area consist of tourism currently supporting nearly 140,000 jobs, a 58.6 percent increase in bed taxes collected, and an anticipated 50 new hotels with more than 6,300 new rooms coming in the next few years.
Young said that currently Florida is the top travel destination in America and “our (Visit Florida’s) goal is to make Florida the No. 1 travel destination in the world.”
Next up was Dow of US Travel.
Although he currently resides in St. Petersburg, Dow spends much of his time in Washington, D.C., on behalf of US Travel, representing multifaceted segments of travel in America.
U.S. travel is an industry that generates $2.5 trillion in economic output and supports 15.7 million jobs, according to Dow’s data.
“Travel is the front door to economic development (in Florida),” said Dow.
Dow relayed a conversation he once had with former Gov. Rick Scott. The governor was telling Dow how the primary industry in Florida was agriculture. Dow suggested that the governor consider all the millions of pounds of Florida beef, fruit and vegetables tourists eat while they are visiting Florida to see how important tourism is to the state.
In support of all the positive benefits of tourism, making sure the funds are there to sustain underpinning aspects of the industry is critical. Dow identified infrastructure, airports, highways, and national parks as features that require serious attention. Dow recommends that Tampa Bay business owners make appointments to meet with their legislative representatives and impress upon those legislators the need in Pinellas County for improvements to the infrastructure, airports, highways, and national parks in promotion of tourism.
Rheem of Brand USA was the final speaker. Brand USA’s function is to increase international visitation to the United States through marketing and promotional efforts.
Even though the chamber’s topic was forecasting tourism, Rheem explained that she was not providing tourism forecasting. Instead, she would be projecting possible elements that may impact tourism. Graphs showing increases and declines in tourism to and from different countries over different time periods were the pivotal point. Imminent concerns that could impact travel from other countries to the United States include the political environment, global economic cooling, international trade/political tension, Brexit, and gun violence.
Rheem pointed to cultural and geo-political factors such as visa refusal rates rising. Impacting issues can originate in the United States or in the country that would generate the travelers. For instance “for travel in China to grow, the (Chinese) middle class must grow,” said Rheem.