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Florida Matters: Future Of Tampa Bay Tourism Up In The Air

Marriott Hotel in downtown Tampa
Marriott Hotel in downtown Tampa

Hotels in the Tampa Bay area had their second-best month ever in February.

But, what a difference a month makes.

When the coronavirus came knocking shortly afterward, occupancy tanked nearly 70 percent. Even in the midst of all this mess - The Tampa Bay area had the third-highest occupancy rate of all metro areas in the nation.

So many jobs hinge on Florida's biggest industry. Tourism is bigger than citrus, bigger than cattle, bigger than everything else. So when tourists stay home, no one rents jet skis, goes to the local take-out, goes shopping or goes out for a drink - even if those places are open.

So we'll get the lowdown on what's happening with Santiago Corrada. He's the president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, which represents Tampa and Hillsborough County.


Here's an excerpt from the show:

Santiago, in the best of times, you have one of the coolest jobs around - you get to sell the sun, the surf, our rich Latin heritage, our blue skies. But, as you know, the skies haven't been so blue lately. You currently have the rather unenviable task of trying to patch up one of the worst travel climates in memory.

We're blessed with a beautiful destination with wide open spaces. Yes, we have beaches over on the Pinellas side, but we've got beautiful natural areas in Hillsborough County, when you think of Plant City and some of the unincorporated parts of Hillsborough County with trails, and great parks. So I think we have lots to offer here that would appeal to people willing to travel to a destination.

I remember after 9/11, the marketing changed from national and international to more targeting local travelers, stay travelers. Are you doing that as well? Are you targeting Floridians to come to Tampa Bay?

Santiago Corrada
Credit You Tube
Santiago Corrada

Every time we have, I guess, a crisis, there are new buzzwords that come out, right? I mean, who knew social distancing would be a buzzword. So the buzzword right now in tourism marketing is drive market. You know, we believe that folks within a drive market will jump in their cars and not fly in are the easiest, quickest targets to hit that would come to a destination. So all our focus will be digitally-based.

And the great thing about digital marketing is it's very flexible, it's very nimble, we can see return on investment for that marketing and where we're making a difference. I was born in New Jersey, and I can remember, you know, even that far up, we used to pack the old station wagon and drive down to South Florida. And you know, it reminds me of National Lampoon's Vacation where everybody gets in the station wagon and drives off to a theme park. I remember doing that quite often as a young person. So we really, I think, have to go back to the future and look at some of those ways to market to the folks that are going to be more comfortable doing it right now.

In your marketing campaign, are you addressing safety measures? Are you telling people it's safe to come down?

I think we do it in a subtle way. Obviously, you know, it's not like banging it at home with a hammer. I think our attractions are doing a fantastic job of saying those things and doing those things. You know, Florida Aquarium is requiring face coverings, when I went to the soft opening of Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure, they were requiring face coverings, they were taking your temperature before you got into the park. They had markings they were adhering to a lot of the CDC requirements for a safe environment.

So I think we create that atmosphere through the marketing and then others really hone in on how safe and people, you know, people are smart. I mean, if they're going to see a marketing campaign from Visit Tampa Bay that has folks out on a kayak and the Hillsborough River and they start pinging Hillsborough County looking for hotels. Those are going to pop up and they're going to do the job of really selling to them, the safety precautions they're taking, as well as the theme parks attractions, all the other assets we have.


Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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