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From Visitors With Love: Tourism stands out as biggest Pinellas economic driver

From Visitors With Love: Tourism stands out as biggest Pinellas economic driver

A sign saying "Let's Shine" at the St. Pete Pier

Typically, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater – Pinellas County’s marketing and tourism arm – directs its efforts at those who live elsewhere, enticing them to visit the area. After all, the people who live here already know it’s great. We live in paradise every day – you don’t have to sell us on it.

But a new campaign from VSPC is targeting locals for a change, and this time, it’s to talk about all those vistors coming to town. While we may get annoyed at the extra traffic during peak season, the things we enjoy year-round are possible thanks to those who swoop in for a week or weekend of fun, and VSPC wants to drive that point home.

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Their new campaign, From Visitors With Love, launched on 727 Day (July 27) with the goal of saying thank you to locals for embracing the tourism industry, and also to highlight how much good it does for the county. Last year alone, visitors spent $6.7 billion in the county, on everything from hotels and restaurants to museums, sporting events, souvenirs, and scooter rentals.

The historic Don Cesar Hotel
Photo courtesy Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

The result of that spending, according to VSPC’s research provider, Destination Analysts, is a staggering 109,365 jobs county-wide thanks to tourism. In addition to the boon for businesses (and the trickle-down effect of employees and their wages, which totaled over $3.6 billion) more than $423 million was generated in tax revenue from those visitors.

From the bed tax collected last year, more than $5 million was put into a fund allocated for beach renourishment at the Pinellas beaches we enjoy year-round. From Spring Training stadiums, including the Toronto Blue Jays stadium in Dunedin to annual events we know and love like Sanding Ovations and St. Pete Pride, tourism provides funding support to keep our area a diverse place to live and work. As The Dali Museum expands, it is able to do so thanks to taxes paid by visitors – not to mention the revenue the museum receives directly from visitors buying tickets, which in turn allows them to offer educational programs for local students.

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Visitors spent $6.7 billion in 2022

One number from VSPC’s campaign was a bit staggering. In 2022, St. Pete/Clearwater received 15.4 million visitors, traveling for either work or pleasure. To put that in perspective, the entire population of Pinellas County itself is barely 1 million.

One of the keys to that distinction, VSPC interim President & CEO Brian Lowack pointed out, is that locals serve as default ambassadors for the region. From bartenders and bellhops to people in the next seat over at a baseball game or coffee shop, it’s the locals who welcome visitors to town, offer suggestions, and make connections over shared experiences.

And the reward for that hospitality, as the numbers show, is significant. More than 1 in 10 jobs locally are supported by visitors. More than $3 billion was spent on St. Pete/Clearwater restaurants and retail last year alone.

Tourism saves residents $850 in taxes annually

The planned new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, which will be funded largely by the bed tax. Rendering via Hines/Tampa Bay Rays

It’s an easy trope for locals to complain about the tourists when traffic on Gulf Boulevard inches to a crawl or getting into our favorite restaurant takes hours instead of minutes. The goal of VSPC’s campaign is to help turn that frustration into appreciation. Our go-to restaurants are able to stay open year-round because of the business visitors bring.

To butcher a metaphor: when there was only one set of footprints in the sand, it’s because the visitors footed the bill to have that sand in place to begin with. Even when they’re not around, we’re reaping the benefits every day.

“I’ve lived here my whole life,” Lowack said. “My family has lived here since 1985, and if you asked my mom and dad what the bed tax is, prior to me explaining it, they wouldn’t have had a clue. If you ask who’s paying to put new sand on the beaches, they wouldn’t have known. I think that sentiment is pretty widespread.”

From Visitors With Love aims to spread the word. Learn more about the campaign at visitstpeteclearwater.com.

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