The months of March and April historically yield the highest tourist development tax revenues seen all year in Pasco County, tourism officials say.
And, Experience Florida’s Sports Coast, the county’s tourism arm, was expecting another sunny spring — further buoyed by neighbor Tampa hosting WrestleMania and the NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament, among other nationwide sports attractions.
Then coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) delivered a lethal blow — coincidently around the time county tourism leaders were set to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Florida’s Sports Coast rebrand.
“This couldn’t have come at a worse time for us,” Florida’s Sports Coast tourism director Adam Thomas told The Laker/Lutz News. “We had new promotions to celebrate and really promote, and really, our balloon got shot down.”
The pandemic didn’t just rain on the tourism agency’s birthday parade. It also forced the postponement or cancellation of at least nine sporting events.
- Amateur Athletic Union Florida West Coast Karate Championships in Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School in Spring Hill
- Savage Race and Savage Blitz extreme mud and obstacle course races in Dade City
- Gran Fondo Florida bicycle race in San Antonio
- USA Hockey Adult Men’s and Women’s National Championships at AdventHealth Center Ice in Wesley Chapel
- Florida Premier Football Club Spring Showcase at fields in Land O’ Lakes, Odessa and New Port Richey
- Caliente Dare to Bare 5K in Land O’ Lakes
- Amateur Junior Golf Association qualifier event at Saddlebrook Golf Club in Wesley Chapel
- Sunshine State Games Figure Skating Championships at AdventHealth Center Ice in Wesley Chapel
But, Florida’s Sports Coast officials aren’t throwing in the towel just yet, even as hotel room nights and economic impact losses pile up.
Thomas said his office is working with the various events rightsholders and decisionmakers in hopes to reschedule many of those postponed events sometime later this year, once travel bans and stay-at-home orders are lifted.
“All we can do is keep those conversations going and keep a positive dialogue with each rightsholder but, at the end of the day, it’s up to them,” the tourism director said.
Meantime, Florida’s Sports Coast officials anticipate a strong rebound from mid-summer onward — as a slew of new sports and recreation facilities are set to come online.
Among the most ballyhooed is the $44 million, 98,000-square-foot Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County in Wesley Chapel, which is eyeing a July opening. The indoor multi-purpose sports complex is on track to host eight different events in the fall, beginning with a September volleyball tournament.
Thomas called the facility “the big highlight of our summer,” also noting the venue scored a “major, major event” in basketball for 2021.
The county also expects to reap the benefits of the $4.9 million Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellbeing Center, set to open late summer. The facility figures to have a global reach and play host to large United States Tennis Association-level tournaments. “It’s a little nugget in our back pocket,” Thomas said.
Moreover, Snowcat Ridge, promoted as the state’s first alpine snow park, is still believed to be on track for a November opening in Dade City.
Florida’s Sports Coast communications manager Kolby Kuyck Gayson said that project is integral to the agency’s recovery plan, “because it’s a brand new attraction and it’s going to be hitting right at the time where we’re expecting people to finally be comfortable really getting out there and traveling.”
The tourism office has other reasons for guarded optimism, too.
The 10-daylong Tohrs2Hot4Ice roller derby national championships remains a go for late June and early July at AdventHealth Center Ice. The event could generate as many as 2,000 room nights and an economic impact north of $4 million, Thomas said.
Florida’s Sports Coast also is doubling down on promoting leisure activities, such as a 10-day bay scallop season along the Anclote River, which hopes to draw families within a 350-mile driving radius across Florida, south Georgia and so on.
Elsewhere, the tourism office is pushing to solicit more business meetings and corporate retreats to county hotels through the end of the year.
Pasco had a record year for tourism in 2019 — hitting the million-visitor mark for the first time ever.
Per tourism office reports, 1,038,700 million visitors generated 1,217,021 room nights in paid accommodations between October 2018 and September 2019. The county’s annual bed tax collections surpassed $3 million for the first time, in that span.
Thomas acknowledged those numbers will be down across the board this year, but added fiscal year 2021 should be “a banner year” from an increased demand for vacations and visitations.
Thomas observed, “This is kind of an anomaly we’re dealing with, not just Pasco, but the entire global tourism marketplace is dealing with the same issue. The demand (for vacations) is at an all-time low now. A year from now, the demand is going to be at an all-time high. …There is a light at the end of the tunnel, there is a brighter day ahead of us.”
Published April 22, 2020