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Tampa Bay Area Tourism is Booming

ST. PETERSBURG — Visitors prize Pinellas County for its white, sandy beaches, art museums and movie star dolphin.

They come to Hillsborough to enjoy a day at Busch Gardens, the zoo or the aquarium.

On both sides of Tampa Bay, tourists have been arriving in record numbers as the state moves toward the third straight year of visitor growth.

With one month left in the accounting year, Pinellas already has surpassed last year's $31 million record for the 5 percent tax collected on overnight hotel stays, posting more than $33 million in revenue through August.

 

 

Hillsborough brought in an annual record of $23.7 million, breaking a pre-recession high-water mark.

In Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, older hotels are renovating and developers are investing millions in new, upscale lodgings to meet escalating demand.

On the whole, the Sunshine State's No. 1 industry has bounced back from the recession with significant momentum in the past few years.

Last year, more than 94 million people visited the state's beaches, theme parks and coastal cities.

With more than 50 million in the first half of 2014, state leaders hope to close in on 100 million visitors by the year's end.

Visit Florida, the state tourism arm, is using its $74 million budget to market the state to an ever-widening variety of domestic and international markets, particularly by joining with local agencies to attract new airline service.

Copa Airlines' direct flight from Panama City to Tampa International Airport, linking the area with Latin America, was one of the fruits of this partnership, which included tourism officials from Visit St. Pete/Clearwater and Hillsborough's agency, Visit Tampa Bay.

Upscale boutique hotels, such as Epicurean and La Meridien, that opened recently in Tampa are two examples of the investments being made around the Tampa Bay area, Corrada said.

In Clearwater Beach and downtown St. Petersburg, there are also numerous upscale hotels in some stage of planning or construction.

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