ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. -
On a crowded Labor Day at St. Pete Beach, the Kristine and Rich Longen weren't worried about finding a sport on the sand to celebrate their one year anniversary. They needed a place to stay.
"I wanted to go somewhere special to celebrate so we just kept looking, and looking, and looking for weeks," Kristine said. "We couldn't get anywhere else because nobody had any openings for this weekend."
They ended up at the Tradewinds. They tried for the Sandpearl on Clearwater, but found it was completely booked by the RNC, as was the Renaissance Vinoy in St. Petersburg.
The Vinoy booked 340 of its 360 rooms to RNC guests, boasting its biggest August ever.
"We got some folks who have never been to the Bay Area, especially St. Pete, and I think they'll come back again and again," said Vinoy General Manager Russ Bond.
For tourism officials, that's the point, hoping to bank on returns for years to come.
"They loved the destination. They were surprised by it. They were surprised they didn't know about it. They were surprised by how big it was," explained Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. "From a tourism and marketing perspective, our take on it was, we just want to get in front of them. We want them to know that we're here."
Some businesses, however, doubt that there will be long-term profits from the RNC.
Ruthie Buxbaum owns Chill & Steam on St. Pete Beach. She planned for a once in a lifetime opportunity, spending thousands extra on produce and fish. Instead, she got the worst week of businesses since she opened a year ago.
"No one came. So, we were kind of wandering the streets going, 'Hello! Is anyone out there?'" Buxbaum laughed. "We just kind of ended the summer with something we thought was going to be the highlight and instead it ended up being a dud."
Buxbaum points to RNC guests shuttled directly from hotels to convention activities, with little opportunity to stray from schedules.
"So I don't know that it would be on their list of places to come back," she said. "From what I saw, the people who were here in town didn't experience any of what our town has to offer."
Still, Downing wants businesses to stay patient, pointing to aggressive advertising campaigns they believe will bring results, even if they take a little longer than the immediate future.
We had a press conference at the end of the RNC the other day and someone jokingly asked, 'Are you prepared to bid for the DNC 2016?' And everyone kind of looked at each other and said, 'Yea'," Downing explained. "We just threw a very, very large event and we threw it very successfully. The world knows that."
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