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The Tampa Bay area is benefiting as Florida’s tourism numbers rebound

Tampa Convention Center (Visit Tampa Bay)
Visit Tampa Bay
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The Tampa Convention Center is a popular venue for large events that attract thousands.

Tampa’s hotel occupancy rate was at or near the top in the nation for the past two years, officials say.

Tourism in Florida is rebounding to prepandemic levels and officials in the greater Tampa Bay region say the area is feeling the benefits.

Florida attracted 30.9 million visitors during the last three months of 2021, making it the second consecutive quarter that the state exceeded 2019’s tourism levels.

In the greater Tampa Bay region, that has translated into full hotels, beaches and attractions, officials said.

The area’s hotel occupancy rate has been at or near the top in the nation for the past two years, said Visit Tampa Bay President and CEO Santiago Corrada.

Tampa has been putting itself in the position to succeed so these numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise, Corrada said.

“I can tell you for the last several years, we've been very, very successful selling and marketing this destination and bringing millions upon millions of visitors to Tampa,” he said.

And the demographics of visitors and new residents is more diverse than ever before, he said.

“For a long time, Tampa was a draw for people living on the east coast, the Northeast, and maybe some of the Midwest,” Corrada said. “Now we're starting to see people even from beyond the Midwest, the West Coast, starting to find an interest in Tampa.”

Corrada said that Tampa is beginning to attract people for reasons beyond its beaches and theme parks.

“Now, Tampa comes up in a lot of different ways; talent recruitment, business relocation, etcetera,” he said.

Steve Hayes, President and CEO of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, said visitation numbers are nearly back to where they were prepandemic.

“In 2019, we were at about 15 million visitors,” said Hayes. “In 2021, we were at 14.8 million visitors, almost back to prepandemic levels.”

This is despite a lack of international visitors due to COVID-related travel restrictions.

During a press conference in Okaloosa County, Governor DeSantis attributed Florida’s resurgent tourism numbers to the lack of restrictions during the pandemic, saying people “want to experience freedom.”

“In Florida, we put freedom first, and as a result people are choosing to vacation in our state from across the country and the world to escape lockdowns, including the politicians who advocated for those reckless policies and who are often spotted vacationing here,” DeSantis said.

Corrada agreed that Florida’s open policy has inherently benefited tourism numbers.

“Certainly, the governor keeping the state open was very, very helpful for us to do what we do,” he said.

But he said personal decision making is important when it comes to travel.

“We’ve had open doors,” Corrada said. “But we wanted people to visit when they thought it was the right time for them to do so.”

I am a WUSF Rush Family/USF Zimmerman School Digital News Intern for the spring 2022 semester; this is my second internship with the station.