Local restaurants, hotels preparing for big business over Gasparilla weekend

Gasparilla 2022
Posted at 5:12 PM, Jan 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 17:12:25-05

TAMPA, Fla. — The countdown to this weekend’s Gasparilla festivities is on. As thousands of people prepare to flood downtown Tampa, local restaurants, bars, and hotels are also getting ready to reap the benefits of a big business weekend.

“The term ‘controlled mayhem’ would definitely be what it is,” said Eric Lackey, the Executive Chef at Harpoon Harry’s Crab House.

Thousands of people at the front doors of local restaurants and bars downtown means a big spike in business. Lackey explains they’ve been preparing for a couple of months now, from stocking up supplies to staffing.

“When you talk about going from a normal day of a couple thousand people in the downtown area around here to 200,000, 300,0000 that could potentially be at our door, it makes a big impact,” said Lackey. “It’s something that we look forward to every year to just help that income.”

They’re not alone in getting ready for a big business weekend. This year for Gasparilla, Visit Tampa Bay says hotel occupancy on Friday and Saturday nights will likely be close to 100 percent downtown and 90 percent or more throughout the rest of Hillsborough County. Visit Tampa Bay expects Gasparilla to add an extra $2 to 3 million in revenues to hotels this year.

Last year with COVID-19 widespread, Gasparilla events were canceled.

“Some folks work year-round for that event, and that’s the event that helps them with their income for the year, and so very difficult not to have it. It’s hard when you have a tradition that’s that longstanding and then you don’t have it,” said Santiago Corrada, the President and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. “I think having said that, there’s a lot of pent-up demand for it this year, so I think folks who didn’t have their fun last year are going to have twice the fun this year.”

“In years past, we’ve been sold out every Gasparilla,” said Heather French, the Director of Sales and Marketing at the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk.

The Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk is also in the thick of all the Gasparilla fun. French says normally when people leave one year, they book themselves for the next.

“We’re currently at 90 percent. We still have some rooms to sell, and hopefully by tomorrow when it starts, we’ll be booked up,” said French.

As businesses make their final preparations, they’re looking forward to getting back to Tampa’s treasured tradition.

“I really think it’s just, this year, people need it more or less to get out and really just start living again after everything that’s been going on. I think people are just excited to be part of that again,” said Lackey.