Pasco tourism ‘booming,’ officials say

Tourism is “booming” in Pasco County and shows little signs of slowing down.

That was the message delivered by Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore and Pasco County Tourism Director Adam Thomas during a recent appearance at a Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce meeting.

Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore, right, and Pasco County Tourism Director Adam Thomas were the guest speakers at a Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce September meeting, at Golden Corral in Zephyrhills. Their talk centered on the county’s tourism efforts. (Kevin Weiss)

“We’re at the highest (tourism) levels ever,” said Moore, who joined Smith, as the featured speakers at the chamber’s September breakfast at the Golden Corral in Zephyrhills.

While Pasco County is not Orlando, Moore said it has much to offer.

Besides being a great place to live, to work and to play, it’s also a great place to visit, Moore said.

The speakers shared a number of tourism-related figures from January through June of this year. The figures were compiled with the help of Tallahassee firm Downs & St. Germain Research, which conducts the county’s quarterly and annual visitor profiles.

Here are some findings from that six-month period:

  • 451,000 people visited Pasco County, spending a combined $234 million
  • The stays represented 487,000 room nights
  • Hotel occupancy is up nearly 3 percent in Pasco County compared to last year, with hotels now averaging 75 percent occupancy
  • Tourism yielded $23 million in taxes, with $15 million in state and federal taxes, $8 million in local taxes
  • Tourism provided $83 million in income, with 3,645 jobs sustained by tourism in Pasco, representing 5 percent of all income and 7 percent of all jobs in the county
  • Tourism contributes $250 in state and local taxes, for each Pasco household

Those visiting the county apparently had a good experience.

Ninety percent of those responding to a survey said they would return, and 99 percent said they were satisfied with the county’s offerings.

Moore, who is chairman of the Pasco Tourist Development Council, is bullish that those promising figures will continue, noting that there are several projects and initiatives coming online the next few years.

Specifically, Moore mentioned the forthcoming Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex, a $44 million, 98,000-square-foot facility that broke ground in June.

The complex, expected to open in late 2019, will be able to host other sporting events and recreational activities, such as martial arts, wrestling, gymnastics, curling, badminton, soccer, lacrosse and pickleball. It will even play host to “unconventional sports tourism,” such as the World Championship of Cornhole.

Besides the indoor facility, the complex will have seven outdoor sports fields, an amphitheater with an event lawn, walking trails, pavilions and a playground.

Once complete, the facility will be one of the county’s “great assets,” Moore said.

“We’re going to have thousands of people come on the weekends for multiple tournaments, whether it be cheerleading or wrestling or volleyball or gymnastics — people from all over the nation, sometimes maybe even all over the world,” Moore said. “It’s exciting. We’re excited about that.”

Meanwhile, other future sports-related endeavors in Pasco include the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis Center in Zephyrhills and the Christopher N. Chiles Aquatic Center in Land O’ Lakes, each of which could become a magnet for hosting regional and national tournaments.

Smith said those facilities, plus the Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, which opened in January 2017, make Pasco an attractive sports tourism destination.

“The heartbeat of tourism right now is our sports,” Smith said, noting his office’s target audience is young families with children. “That’s our bread and butter.”

Smith, too, suggested the county’s inshore and offshore fishing offerings, as well as hiking, biking and walking trails all help create a bevy of other family friendly activities for those visitors who travel in for various sporting events and tournaments.

“We’re an outdoor recreation, ecotourism, adventure travel destination,” Smith said. “We have a lot to offer that a lot of other destinations don’t have, so we want to differentiate our product and sell what’s unique about our destinations.”

Another future selling point for Pasco is the return of scalloping, the speakers said.

For the first time since 1994, state waters off Pasco County were open to bay scallop harvest for a 10-day trial season in late July. Harvest areas included all state waters south of the Hernando-Pasco county line and north of the Anclote Key Lighthouse in northern Pinellas County, as well as all waters of the Anclote River.

Moore said there may be additional scalloping days next year and a full scalloping season by 2020.

Moore also noted that without the scallop trial season, families would have otherwise traveled north to Hernando County, all but bypassing Pasco. “I’ve never seen that many boats in the water in Pasco County in my life. It was packed,” the commissioner said of the 10-day trial season.

Smith coined the popular family friendly activity “an underwater Easter egg hunt.”

“It’s a great opportunity for folks, not only around Florida or the southeast region of the United States, but all across the nation, to get in our waters, to explore our aquatic life and to have this experience to take home with them. …That’s the memories that we’re trying to create here for our guests and families — to come in and experience some of the things that we have on an annual basis,” Smith explained.

Aside from sports and outdoor activities, the tourism director said there’s also been a renewed emphasis to lure annual conventions and shows and corporate retreats, taking advantage of large meeting space at Saddlebrook Resort, Hyatt Place Wesley Chapel, and eventually the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex.

Published September 12, 2018

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