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Tampa Bay Area Hotels See Increased Occupancy As Coronavirus Fades

Visit Tampa Bay

Florida’s tourism industry was hit hard by the pandemic. But as Memorial Day approaches and the number of coronavirus cases falls in Florida and around the country, hotel occupancy rates are bouncing back.

Occupancy rates measure the percentage of available rooms that are occupied in a given period.

For April 2021, Hillsborough County’s rate was 72.2%. That is slightly higher than Florida as a whole (71.5) and much greater than the average for the U.S. (57.5).

“Most Americans lost their opportunity to travel last Memorial Day, last July 4th, last summer,” said Santiago Corrada, President and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. “So that pent-up demand shows up, and the fact that we're seeing analytics where Google searches for travel are all about Florida, we think we're going to see a lot of movement this summer.”

That prediction comes after months of economic downturn and job loss in the state’s leisure and hospitality sectors.

In April 2020, the worst month for the industry in recent years, hotel occupancy in the county fell to 23.2 percent. One year prior, that number was 77 percent.

“April 2020 was probably the worst tourism month for everyone in the country,” Corrada said. “Last March, April, May, throughout the prior calendar year, we saw jobs disappear, because there wasn't the demand that travel created.”

Since last April, hotel occupancy rates in the county have steadily increased.

According to Corrada, who shared occupancy data from Smith Travel Research, the upward trend is critically important for the local economy.

“When you think about the economic spend of a visitor to a destination, not only are they staying in a hotel,” he said. “They're going out to eat, they're going out for entertainment, they're going out and buying things retail, they're paying our local and state taxes, sales tax, transportation tax, and education tax.”

The economic impact of tourism was apparent during this year’s legislative session, where lawmakers had to account for a state budget shortfall of at least $2 billion.

While recent hotel occupancy rates are positive indicators that the state’s tourism industry is returning to some semblance of normalcy, industry officials say there’s still room for growth from international, business, and convention travellers.

“Our properties that primarily catered toward the leisure traveler are looking at an uptick in terms of bookings, as well as their rates,” said Bob Morrison, executive director of the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association.

“Those who are focused or centered on business -- that business traveler or group and or convention business -- will not see the same kind of impact, because we're still seeing those segments not yet traveling nearly as much as the leisure traveler is at this time.”

Morrison is hopeful those numbers will increase, especially with the help of Corrada.

Visit Tampa Bay has booked around 25 conventions and meetings between now and November.

Almost a dozen were relocated to Tampa from cities across the country unable to accommodate the groups because of more stringent coronavirus policies.

“I think we all realize how critically important travel and tourism were not just for us here locally, but for the state, for the country, and for the world,” Corrada said. “And so this comeback has been very, very good for us.”

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Jacob Wentz