Pasco surpasses one million visitors in 2019

Pasco County has hit the million-visitor mark, establishing a new record for tourism in a single fiscal year.

The county’s tourism department, which brands the county as Florida’s Sports Coast, reported that 1,038,700 million visitors generated 1,217,021 room nights in paid accommodations between October 2018 and September 2019.

Pasco County tourism director Adam Thomas, at Florida’s Sports Coast brand launch earlier this year, at Tampa International Airport. (Courtesy of Pasco County Office of Tourism)

By comparison, the number of visitors in fiscal year 2018 was roughly 965,000 visitors, generating about 1,132,000 room nights in paid accommodations.

Some other key tourism findings:

  • Visitor spending in fiscal year 2019 translated to more than $652 million in economic impact to the area, a 6% increase from 2018.
  • County bed tax collections surpassed $3 million — another first, and also a 15% increase from the previous year.
  • Tourism supported 7,870 jobs, a 5% percent increase from 2018, and equaled $168,157,000 in wages and salaries (up 7% from the previous year).

For every dollar spent in marketing, the return is $447 in visitor spending, according to Adam Thomas, the county’s tourism director.

The growth in tourism follows a shift in the county’s branding to emphasize sports and recreation.

Its current tourism pitches are based on the brand, “Florida’s Sports Coast,” with the tagline “Let’s Play.”

The shift to the new brand was made in March, replacing the previous slogan “Visit Pasco. Open Spaces. Vibrant Places.”

The new brand highlights the county’s growing list of recreational sports venues and outdoor activities.

In a recent interview with The Laker/Lutz News, Thomas said the new brand identity, along with enhanced strategized marketing efforts, has yielded a greater impression in tourism circles both statewide and nationally.

Increased participation in national-based tourism and consumer shows, as well as media missions, have helped spread awareness about Pasco County as a popular vacation spot, said Thomas, who took over the tourism department in fall 2017.

“We now are seeing our destination image change overnight,” he said, “and it’s really going to make an impact for further visitation because we’re only going to further tell our story.”

Crossing the 1 million visitor mark, he said, “is a milestone” for the county.

“We’re only going to see our visitation numbers increase,” Thomas added.

A larger staff is working to ensure all that.

When Thomas took over the office, he had one other staffer. Now, he has a team of seven, including the recent addition of a digital content producer and corporate tourism sales manager.

With a slew of new sports and recreation facilities coming online within the next year or so,

the county is poised for even more tourism growth.

New facilities coming online include the Wiregrass Sports Complex of Pasco County in Wesley Chapel, the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center in Zephyrhills, and the state’s first and only alpine snow park being built Dade City.

Those facilities will add to Wesley Chapel’s AdventHealth Center Ice, Saddlebrook Golf & Tennis Resort, and outdoor adventure activities, including skydiving, saltwater fishing, parks and nature trails.

Several hotels also are coming to the county in 2020. Those include the renovation of New Port Richey’s historic Hacienda Hotel into a 40-room boutique hotel; a 124-room Residence Inn by Marriott next to the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex; and, two Woodspring Suites extended Suites extended stay-style hotels, in close proximity to AdventHealth Center Ice.

The county is banking on those sports and hospitality venues to thrive in any economic climate, Thomas said.

The tourism leader pointed out youth and amateur sports tourism is “a sustainable entity” even in economic downturns because parents are still apt to invest in their children’s athletic endeavors no matter what.

“You’re still going to get Johnny to his baseball game, you’re going to get Cindy to her cheerleading competition,” Thomas observed.

However, Pasco wants to be more than just a youth sports and recreation hotbed, Thomas said.

The tourism director said his staff is also putting greater focus on luring group business travelers (social, military, education, religious, fraternal groups) for conventions, retreats and so on.

The addition of more hotels and sports venues helps to “diversify not only our destination, but our portfolio as a sports, leisure and business destination,” Thomas said.

Tourism statistics reveal that Pasco’s visitors come from six states: Florida, New York, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, Thomas said during a Pasco County Commission meeting last week.

Of those visiting the county, 42 percent are from Florida, he added.

Published December 18, 2019

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