The devastation and destruction caused by COVID-19 placed life, as we knew it, on hold. Human beings are social creatures, by nature, so being confined to quarantine-type living situations had the world practically bursting with anticipation to get out and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Normal routines such as traveling, dining, attending sporting events, getting on the bus and going to school, and experiencing all aspects of life, seemingly vanished or came to an abrupt halt. Now that the world has entered into the third year of post-pandemic life, normalcies have resumed. Tourism has skyrocketed, particularly in the Tampa Bay region.
To capture a more vivid picture of the details surrounding tourism trends in the Tampa Bay region, Tampa Bay Business and Wealth connected with several economic development organizations to check in on what tourism numbers look like right now, what’s driving tourism the most and a new tourism-focused incubator.
Visit Tampa Bay
Santiago C. Corrada
President and CEO
What, exactly, does tourism look like right now and are numbers up or down?
Hillsborough County continues its impressive growth trajectory, surpassing the remarkable milestone of $1 billion in taxable hotel revenue for the fiscal year 2023. Tampa Bay has enjoyed a spectacular year marked by robust leisure travel and a series of convention wins that showcase the very best our destination has to offer. The collaborative efforts of our exceptional tourism partners and stakeholders have played a pivotal role in driving Hillsborough County’s growth and development.
The tourism and hospitality industry in Tampa Bay has undergone significant transformation and success in recent years. Some notable highlights include the addition of over 2,500 new hotel rooms in the past three years, earning a place in the inaugural Michelin Guide to Florida, transformative waterfront developments like the Tampa Riverwalk connecting Sparkman Wharf to Armature Works, renovations at the Tampa Convention Center and Tampa International Airport, as well as the introduction of new domestic and international flight routes into Tampa.
The travel sector is a vital component of the Hillsborough County economy, generating substantial economic benefits for households, businesses and government. Visitors play a pivotal role in shaping the county’s future, contributing to over $8.5 billion in annual economic development through tourism. More than 57,000 individuals in Hillsborough County rely on tourism to support their families and secure their futures.
Tampa and the broader Hillsborough County community have gained widespread recognition and accolades. Over the past year, Tampa was named Forbes’ Number 1 Best Place To Live in Florida for 2023, earned a spot on Money’s 2023 Best Places to Travel and Best Places to Live, was recognized as one of Time’s Greatest Places in The World, and acknowledged by WalletHub as one of the Best Foodie Cities in America in 2022 and for having the Best Summer Vacations in 2023.
Editor’s note: Visit Tampa Bay’s responses were revised after the print edition went to press.
Visit St. Pete/Clearwater
Interim President and CEO
Can you bring us up to date on tourism happenings in the area and what’s driving tourism the most?
Tourism numbers are extremely high this year, particularly in Pinellas County. The first half of 2023 stood out with high concentrations of tourism, and [in] the second half of the year we are seeing the numbers leveling out a bit. In 2021 and 2022, we experienced record-high numbers in tourism.
Experiences and the vibrancy that St. Pete and Clearwater have to offer drive tourism the most. We live in such a fun and dynamic area with museums, divine culinary experiences, professional and collegiate sports. And, of course, our beaches are arguably some of the best in the country. Undoubtedly, this particular area attracts individuals, couples and families looking for beach vacations and nice hotels, but tourism goes deeper than that. We cater to large corporate conventions and sporting events and bring as many tournaments and events as we can to this area.
How do you maintain growth?
We have to continue to tell our story or share what’s happening here, with the rest of the world. Digital advertising has proven to be one of our greatest strengths for reach and pull. We focus our efforts not only on a world scale but we work hard to keep our local tourists happy and coming back.
According to Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, an estimated 14.9 million people visited the destination in 2021. One-third of those tourists stayed in overnight accommodations while contributing to more than $4 billion to the economy.
Tell us more about this tourism-focused incubator.
Clearwater has been named the No. 1 beach in the United States, again, this year, and our incubator will highlight what our community has already been successful at — tourism. Our mission is to develop a lively, and sustainable, tourism ecosystem. We have been honing in on what the current market needs, and offers, and then we simply fill in the gaps.
Ultimately, we noticed a gap in our service between Clearwater Business SPARK and Amplify Clearwater. SPARK assists entrepreneurs in the beginning phases of the business development process, while Amplify handles various needs after the business has been established. The incubator will help serve and guide those who are in the “ideation” phase of their career. More about the tourism-focused incubator can be viewed on, and applied for, on Amplify’s website. ♦
About Amplify Clearwater’s Tourism Business Incubator
Amplify Clearwater, a business advocacy organization in the North Pinellas region, partnered with Clearwater-based, Economic Impact Catalyst to launch a tourism business incubator.
During a Clearwater City Council meeting, in August, there was a unanimous vote in favor of allocating $250,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds to the launch of the incubator.
“The incubator will be focused on cultivating, and strengthening, the area’s tourism ecosystem. It specifically focuses on innovation and sustainability within the industry sector,” said Denise Sanderson, director of economic development and housing for the City of Clearwater and staff liaison for the project. The incubator is set to launch with its first 10-week cohort, in October of 2023, followed by a second cohort in the Spring of 2024. Interested candidates can visit www.amplifyclearwater.com/incubator to learn more and to apply for the programs.