Adam Thomas envisions Pasco County becoming one of Florida’s “must-see” tourism destinations.
Aside from mostly pleasant weather, the county lays its claim to bountiful ecotourism, miles of bike trails, premier multipurpose sports facilities — as well as beaches and resorts.
“We have a lot of opportunities,” said Thomas, who is Pasco’s newest tourism director.
“Our destination is really primed for success in the future, and ready for success now. We have a lot of key attractions and key different segments in tourism right here…”
Thomas, 38, started his $82,000-a-year job in September.
He shared his vision for Pasco County’s Office of Tourism Development — which is known as Visit Pasco — during a Nov. 8 luncheon hosted by The Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce.
He expressed confidence in the county’s tourism offerings, but he said the county’s current strategy “lacks an identity.”
“Not one person can identify what our brand is, as a tourism destination,” Thomas told chamber members and county stakeholders gathered at the Fox Hollow Golf Club.
Thomas needs to develop a brand strategy that highlights the county’s assets and create a business model that attracts not just locals, but also resonates with people “50 miles and beyond.”
He noted he has considerable work to do to attract visitors that will produce economic impact over the course of the year.
Most recently, Thomas served as director of the Citrus County Visitor’s Bureau, since 2013. Before that, he was a minor league baseball player, a career that spanned more than a decade, and took him to three continents and countless cities across the United States.
Thomas replaced Doug Traub, who left after just three months on the job as the county’s first tourism director. Traub arrived in Pasco from Lake Havasu, Arizona, where he was the chief executive officer of the visitor and tourism bureau.
Pasco County previously had a tourism manager position, but the director’s job expands on those duties to handle long-range strategic goals.
In Citrus County, Thomas said tourism generated $11.7 million in sales taxes in 2016, ultimately saving each county household about $197 on taxes that year.
“Something that I love about our industry is that it’s no tax burden on the citizens in their household, but it’s providing economic sustainability,” Thomas said.
Duplicating results for Pasco, he said, starts with auditing each event and festival coordinated by his office — to determine whether or not they drive hotel room nights and create an economic impact that “brings the highest yield of investment.”
Thomas noted Visit Pasco last year spent $285,000 on local events and festivals, and $160,000 on tourism advertising initiatives.
He questioned whether those local events — such as the Pasco County Fair in Dade City and the Chasco Fiesta in New Port Richey — actually entice tourists and nonresidents.
“On an annual basis, we’re spending more money on local events and festivals than we actually do marketing the destination,” he said. “We have to take a look at the bigger picture.”
The tourism director also panned the economic model for the Dick’s Sporting Good Tournament of Champions in Wesley Chapel, a youth lacrosse showcase that draws more than 50 teams from more than a dozen states, as well as Canada. The three-day event has been held in the county each year since 2008.
Thomas pointed out the county spent a combined $694,000 on the three-day event over the last seven years alone.
“That’s a $94,000 (annual) bill for us, with 80 percent of the rooms going to Tampa. Is that a good business decision?” he asked.
“It’s really not all about heads and beds. It’s about getting the right event or the right audience in our destination to create the highest economic impact and the highest visitor expenditure. That’s going to offset costs, again, to the local community in the sales tax,” he said.
He also detailed some of his long-term ideas.
He said he wants to lure more small conferences and trade associations — with various incentive packages — to places such as Saddlebrook Resort & Spa and the forthcoming Wiregrass Sports Complex, both of which offer thousands of square feet of meeting space, along with numerous recreation opportunities.
“These are small, little initiatives that can really make an impact to the entire community,” Thomas said.
He also wants to popularize scallop harvesting in west Pasco, with the approval of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Scalloping was a draw for traveling families in Citrus County between June and September, he said.
Drawing other profitable sporting events and fishing tournaments are definite possibilities, too.
Elsewhere, Thomas wants to furnish interactive kiosks and mobile video displays to promote the county at events and trade shows. He noted other communities have introduced digital billboards, videos and virtual reality to portray their respective various tourist attractions.
“There’s a lot of things our office hasn’t been doing in the past that we need to be doing moving forward,” he said. “We’re behind the eight-ball a little bit…”
Meanwhile, Thomas plans to completely rebrand “Visit Pasco” during the next several months.
He plans to have a consulting firm in place by January to help with new branding, as well as marketing efforts.
The process could take anywhere from six months to eight months, he said.
“We first have to identify who our target audience is…and we have to do that through a brand and research strategy where a firm comes in and works directly with our events holders, our properties, to actually find out who’s coming here and why,” he explained.
“We have some really key attractions, but it’s all going to be a part of the brand umbrella,” Thomas said.
Whatever slogan is selected, Thomas wants Pasco to identify as an entirely separate entity from Tampa — not merely an extension of it.
“We want to pull ourselves away from Tampa,” he said, “and the only way we’re going to be able to do that is with the brand strategy to be a standalone competing destination for it.
“We don’t want to be a room night, a day trip from Tampa into Pasco. We don’t want to be a bedroom community to Tampa,” Thomas said.
Thomas and his staff of two will have a budget based on the recent doubling of Pasco’s tourism tax, to 4 percent from 2 percent.
The surcharge on overnight hotel stays and other short-term rentals had remained at 2 percent for 26 years, until August.
Pasco officials estimate the additional 2 percent tourism tax will generate an additional $1.2 million in fiscal 2018, which began Oct. 11.
Published November 15, 2017