Tourism to keep booming in Pasco County, officials say

Tourism is booming in Pasco County — which reported nearly a million visitors last year.

And, the best may be yet to come, according to a presentation by county tourism officials Adam Thomas and Kolby Kucyk Gayson, during a recent Dade City Commission meeting.

The county now brands itself as “Florida’s Sports Coast,” with the tagline, “Let’s Play,” in its tourism pitches. Previously, it used the slogan “Visit Pasco. Open Spaces. Vibrant Places.”

Tree Hoppers Aerial Adventure Park, in Dade City, gives people of all ability levels the chance to experience a ropes course and ziplining. Tree Hoppers is one of Pasco County’s top tourist draws. (File)

It changed its brand in March to highlight the county’s growing list of recreational sports venues and outdoor activities.

“We were in dire need of a rebrand as a destination,” said Gayson, communications manager for Florida’s Sports Coast. “We needed our own identity within the Florida tourism market.”

Now, word is spreading about Pasco County in tourism circles regionally, nationally and even internationally, said Thomas, the county’s tourism director.

“In the past six, seven months, we’ve created some strong destination awareness, so the buzz is starting to get out there about the Sports Coast,” he said.

Thomas expects a noticeable uptick in activity once the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex of Pasco County comes online in July 2020 and begins booking events for 2021. The $44 million, 98,000-square-foot indoor space in Wesley Chapel will primarily accommodate basketball, volleyball, cheerleading, dance and gymnastics events.

“We’re thinking on a global scale for that facility,” Thomas said.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind facility,” he said, noting no other facility in the Southeast compares to it.

“We’re offering something that’s unique that people are going to travel around the state to come experience,” Thomas said.

The $44 million Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex is expect to draw tourists from across the country, and even internationally, after it opens next year. (Courtesy of RADD Sports)

The sports complex will ultimately benefit each surrounding community in Pasco, the tourism director explained.

That’s because, he said, there’ll be opportunities for marketing partnerships with local chambers and merchant’s associations, encouraging visitors to make trips to Dade City, Zephyrhills, New Port Richey and so on.

He put it like this: “The longer (tourists) stay here, the more money they spend. The more money they spend, the greater the economy gets.”

During the presentation, Thomas shared various tourism facts and figures from the past year.

There were 965,000 visitors to Pasco, booking 1.23 million hotel room nights in 2018, he said.

That generated roughly $57.5 million in sales tax for the county.

A group of skydivers enter a plane which they will jump from at Skydive City in Zephyrhills. Skydive City is one of Pasco County’s top tourist attractions. (File)

The economic impact generated an estimated $194 in tax savings for each Pasco household, Thomas added.

Additionally, tourism supports about 7,500 jobs each year, at hotels, restaurants, attractions and other businesses, he said.

That represents 13 percent of all jobs in the county, he said.

The tourism agency’s “bread and butter” is youth and amateur sports tourism. The next most popular categories are leisure and adventure travelers for activities including biking, fishing, boating, ziplining and so on.

He pointed out the county’s top tourist attractions annually, in order, are:

  • Skydive City in Zephyrhills
  • Giraffe Ranch in Dade City
  • Lift Adventure Park in Hudson
  • TreeHoppers Aerial Adventure Park in Dade City
  • Anclote Key Preserve State Park in West Pasco
  • Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park in West Pasco

He described adventure attractions as “where the rubber meets the road in pulling the entire 742 square miles of a destination together under one umbrella to call ourselves Florida’s Sports Coast.”

In addition to sports and outdoor recreation, Thomas said a greater focus is being placed on soliciting social, military, education, religious, fraternal groups, as well as business travelers, conventions and corporate retreats.

They’re doing that by leveraging meeting space that’s available at various hotels, golf clubs and local colleges.

“Those are the niche marketing segments or niche influencers that we’re trying to partner with and cater to,” Thomas said.

The bulk of the county’s visitors come from other areas of Florida and the Southeast region, followed by the Northeast and Midwest, he said.

But, he noted, there’s a growing number of international tourists. They made up 9% of all travelers to the area in 2018.

Pasco’s top international market is Canada, Thomas said. They mainly visit between January and April and their primary interests lie in outdoor activities, particularly cycling.

Meanwhile, as tourism grows, Thomas’ department is growing, too.

The agency has six staff members, including Thomas, but also is hiring a corporate tourism sales manager and a digital media producer, he said.

Published November 06, 2019

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