When the final numbers are in, Pasco County’s tourism manager believes the county will be issuing a report on a record year for the county.
“I’m actually probably going to have a record year, once I see September’s numbers. The average daily room rate is up about 10 percent across the board,” said Ed Caum, tourism manager for Pasco County. “It’s pretty exciting.”
And, the prospects are bright for even more visitors in the coming year.
The county has several new attractions that will be opening soon, or have recently opened.
- Tampa Premium Outlets, off State Road 54, near Interstate 75: This 441,000-square-foot mall, featuring 110 retailers, is scheduled to open on Oct. 29.
- Florida Hospital Center Ice, off State Road 56, parallel to Interstate 75, is set to open next spring. It is expected to attract tournaments, as well as thousands of local hockey players, skaters and other athletes.
- Tree Hoppers, in Dade City, is a zipline course designed for aerial adventurers of all ability levels.
- SunWest Park, in Hudson, is expected to attract worldwide attention for its beach volleyball courts and its wakeboard course.
These attractions will help draw more visitors, which will increase tourism — and that benefits the county, Caum said during the Oct. 6 breakfast meeting of the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce.
Tourism figures matter — not only to people working directly in the hospitality industry, but to all of Pasco’s business owners and residents, Caum said.
Taxes paid by tourists reduce the tax burden for Florida residents, he said.
And, tourism provides jobs.
Across Florida, the state is projecting the need for 300,000 more hospitality employees by 2020, Caum told the breakfast crowd, gathered in the conference center at Pasco-Hernando State College’s Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch.
“A lot of people are thinking, well that’s not really a lot of high-paying jobs,” Caum said.
But he added: “We’re going to have to change our mentality about that a little bit.
“Actually, the median wage for someone who is in the hospitality business is about $45,000,” he said. “It’s not all people changing sheets.”
“Tourism is economic development,” Caum said.
“Everybody who runs a business in Florida is an ambassador for tourism. Because if you’re a car dealership, or a car repair or providing some kind of service, chances are you’re going to have a tourist that’s going to walk through your business,” he said.
In Pasco, County Administrator Michele Baker has realigned the tourism office so that it works with the county’s office of economic growth.
The shift was made because tourism is an economic generator, Caum said.
Tourism also helps the state to attract more businesses and residents.
“A lot of the folks who have moved their businesses here, came here because they had a good experience in Florida and they decided they wanted to come down here to open a business,” Caum said.
Figures show that $500 million was spent by tourists in Pasco County.
“We’re generating right around 6,000 jobs, currently, here in Pasco County, which is tourism-related,” Caum said.
That’s not counting the car mechanic that fixes a traveling tourist’s car, or the car rental place that rents a car to someone who is coming from the airport to visit people or conduct business in Pasco.
Pasco County currently has 3,556 hotel rooms.
Caum expects the county’s hotel stock to increase by 75 beds a year for the next five years.
“I have to market what we are. Not what we think we are. Not what we want to be. We have to actually market and play to our strengths.
“So, what do we have? We have elbowroom. We have outdoors. We have nature.
“We don’t swim with the manatees here, but I’m constantly out there kayaking and they’re always coming out to see what that big green thing on the top of the water is, and it’s me, looking down at the manatees. That’s an experience that people love.
“I always see dolphins when I’m out kayaking,” he said.
As the county invests in amenities to boost tourism, local residents benefit, too, Caum said.
Caum serves on two Visit Florida committees: The Cultural Heritage, Rural and Nature Committee and the Marketing Committee.
“I’m sitting around the table with the likes of Disney, Busch Gardens and some of the major, major players, to talk about marketing.
“The one thing that we’re going to try to do is to move people around Florida more.
“We’ve found that people that have gone back to the same destination over and over again are looking for other opportunities,” he said.
“I’m trying to position Pasco County as the place they maybe want to visit after they’ve seen The Mouse (Disneyworld).
“I’m trying to not be the anti-Mouse, but say, if you want to disconnect, bring your family someplace where you can go out and walk in the woods, paddle on the water — a different experience and a healthy experience, also,” Caum said.
The county also has a number of events that attract visitors, including the Bug Jam, the Savage Races and local festivals.
And, it is launching new initiatives, too.
“One of the things that we do have here is a lot of history,” he said, noting there are 93 cast iron historic signs around the county.
“I’m working right now to GPS all of them and put them into a map, where our visitors can follow them around,” he said.
European visitors, in particular, enjoy driving around to the various historic sites and getting out of the car to read about the area, Caum said.
Efforts are also underway to bring downtown districts back to life and to promote the county’s microbreweries and eclectic restaurants, Caum added.
When it comes to promoting the county, it’s everybody’s job, the tourism manager said.
He recounted overhearing a young waiter being asked by a visitor what there was to do around Pasco County.
The waiter replied: “I’ve lived here forever. There’s nothing to do in Pasco County.”
“There’s a missed opportunity,” Caum said.
Published October 14, 2015