Tourism in Pasco County came back to earth in 2020 — following a record year the year before, which saw the area surpass the million-visitor mark for its first time.
An informational presentation from Experience Florida’s Sports Coast — the county’s branded tourism arm — reveals some sobering facts and figures in a fiscal year impacted largely by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pasco attracted 959,700 visitors in fiscal year 2020, down 7.6% from fiscal year 2019 when it drew 1,038,700 visitors, according to an analysis by Downs & St. Germain Research Inc., consultants to the county.
Other tourism economic impact indicators registered noticeable reductions across the board for the county when compared to the previous year:
- Room nights generated — 1,069,849 (12.1% decrease)
- Direct expenditures — $391,642,500 (15.3% decrease)
- Total economic impact — $552,216,200 (15.3% decrease)
- Jobs supported by tourism — 6,790 (13.7% decrease)
- Wages paid by tourism — $149,461,500 (11.1% decrease)
- Tourist Development Tax (bed tax) — $2,639,427 (13.2% decrease)
- Taxes supported — $51,789,400 (14.8% decrease)
County tourism manager Adam Thomas shared these annual findings and other details during a Pasco County Commission meeting last month.
The 113-page visitor report shows that about one in four visitors to Pasco came to visit friends and family, while one in 10 visitors traveled to attend or participate in a sporting event.
The areas within the county attracting the most visitors were New Port Richey, Wesley Chapel, Port Richey and Lutz, according to the report.
Perceptions of Pasco based on coded, open-ended tourist responses generally found the area as a friendly and pleasant place, with tropical Florida weather, and lots to do.
In the way of visitor satisfaction, Pasco earned an 8.3 rating, out of a possible 10, as a place to visit or vacation in 2020, with 95% of respondents saying they plan to return to the county.
About 85% of all visitors drove to Pasco in 2020, while 11% flew in through Tampa International Airport.
Florida made up the bulk of the county’s visitation, with 51% of all visits, followed by the rest of the Southeast (16%), then Northeast (12%) and Midwest (12%) regions of the country. Six percent of visitors were international, while 3% came in from the West.
Relatedly, 60% of all the visitors to Pasco were from 10 states.
Besides a majority of Florida-based visitors, roughly 5% of tourists came in from Georgia and New York. Smaller subsets were from Michigan, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee; top origin markets were Tampa Bay (29%), Orlando (6%), Atlanta (4%) and New York City (4%).
Another notable data point is that length of stays were shorter during the past year, according to the report.
A typical visitors length of stay in Pasco measured an average of 4.8 nights in 2020, down from 5.7 nights in 2019. The reduction is believed to be a result of the pandemic.
Despite reversing course in fiscal year 2020, Pasco’s tourism efforts have spearheaded in recent years, following a shift in philosophy to emphasize youth and amateur sports and recreation opportunities.
The Experience Florida’s Sports Coast branding efforts highlight the county’s growing list of modern athletics venues, including AdventHealth Center Ice, the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center and the Wiregrass Sports Campus of Pasco County. Tourism efforts also showcase the county’s myriad outdoor activities that include golfing, saltwater fishing, skydiving and scalloping.
The county’s day-to-day tourism efforts are under the direction of Thomas, a former minor league baseball pitcher who led the Citrus County Visitor and Conventions Bureau before being hired to Pasco in September 2017.
Bullish on tourism future
Following the annual report presentation, county commissioners commended Thomas and his tourism staff for the work they’ve done of late, and expressed optimism of a rebound — figuring the depressed 2020 was a temporary setback and anomaly because of COVID-19.
Commissioner Mike Moore, who chairs the Pasco County Tourist Development Council, highlighted how the tourism agency achieved national recognition throughout the past year.
Experience Florida’s Sports Coast won three Telly Awards, including gold, for its scalloping promotional video. The Telly Awards is recognized as the premier award honoring video and television across all screens. It received over 12,000 entries from all 50 states.
The tourism department also claimed two silver Flagler Awards in 2020 for its website design and meeting planner guide. The Flagler Awards serves to recognize outstanding tourism marketing in Florida.
Continuing on the positives, Moore pointed out bed tax collections actually increased in September 2020 compared to September 2019, despite the pandemic.
Moore gave Thomas kudos for “amazing, amazing work,” to lock in enough amateur and recreational sporting events to make that happen.
Others on the dais also voiced strong approval for Thomas and his tourism staff’s varied efforts.
“I don’t remember what it was like before, but since you’ve been here, it’s really been booming, even with COVID,” Commission Chairman Ron Oakley said of Thomas. “It’s a great team.”
Commissioner Jack Mariano noted Thomas was hired at an ideal time for the county almost four years ago, as projects like AdventHealth Center Ice and the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County were on the ramp-up.
Mariano also noted more tourism options on the county’s west side are taking shape, with seawall plans for Hudson Beach and improvements to SunWest Park — the latter of which could pave the way for some major sand volleyball and wakeboarding events in the future. “It’s going to be real exciting times coming forward,” Mariano said.
Commission Vice Chair Kathryn Starkey, too, acknowledged the staff of eight at Experience Florida’s Sports Coast has done a solid job.
As for what more can be done to make the county an attractive tourism destination, however, Starkey turned to the county’s current slate of nature and parks offerings.
She referenced a point in the report’s visitor surveys that indicated those features generally fell below expectations. Moreover, about 43% of polled visitors desired more outdoor activities, despite the county boasting over 24 miles of coastline to the west, hilly terrain to the east, and more than 100,000 acres of wilderness to explore in between.
Upgrades in these arenas should be on the way, Starkey noted, thanks to a recently approved bond issue. “We haven’t had the money to make all of our parks as premier as we’d like them to be, but it’s coming,” she said.
Published February 17, 2021