Hope on the horizon as international travelers set to return to Tampa Bay area

Foreign visitors spent $17 billion in FL in 2019
Tampa Bay Area beach shot on 11/5/2021
Posted at 2:42 PM, Nov 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-05 19:47:50-04

TAMPA, Fla. — The United States is preparing to open up our borders starting Monday, November 8 to vaccinated visitors from 33 countries. It comes after 18 months of travel bans due to the pandemic.

Resuming international travel is great news for local tourism agencies and businesses that rely on travelers like the JW Marriott Tampa Water Street. The Marriott’s General Manager, Ron McAnaugh, is thrilled.

“It’s the weight lifting off the shoulders. It’s great to bring staff back,” he explained.

The lobby of his hotel is once again filled with convention visitors, and soon, he’ll welcome international travelers for the very first time.

“We’ve not had the opportunity to welcome visitors from overseas yet, so this is exciting,” McAnaugh explained.

The JW Marriott opened during the pandemic in the height of travel restrictions. The hotel was able to host NFL groups for the Super Bowl and they’ve also welcomed leisure travelers from other parts of the U.S.

Hotel guests check in on 11/5/2021
Tampa area hotel guests check in on 11/5/2021

“Tampa’s opportunity is we’ve added a lot of rooms in a pandemic. There’s two new Hyatt’s, our property, and the Haya in Ybor. That’s 800 rooms added into a pandemic,” McAnaugh elaborated.

Tourism leaders told ABC Action News international travel only takes up about 10-15% of the market here in St. Pete/Clearwater and 5% of the market in greater Tampa Bay, but the big difference is international travelers stay longer and on average spend a lot more money.

Visit Tampa Bay says on average international visitors stay twice as long and spent five times as much as domestic travelers. In Florida, international travelers spent $17.3 billion dollars in 2019, and $642 million of that was in Pinellas County alone.

“So, keep in mind in the last 18 months we have basically had none of that,” said Visit St. Pete/Clearwater President Steve Hayes. “But they’ve saved up their time and they’ve saved up their money and the word we are hearing is that the international travelers are looking for longer vacations.”

At Island Way Grill in Clearwater, General Manager Sheri Aquilar said the lack of international visitors has been noticeable, and that in the summer months, they make up around 15-20% of business.

Tampa area restaurant on 11/5/2021

Although the restaurant is having one of their best years on the books, Aquilar said international travelers are unique because they’ll often visit the same restaurant multiple times during their stay.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to be able to reconnect with people from other countries. There’s different styles and languages and the servers miss that so it’s exciting to know it’s coming back again,” she explained.

Delta airlines said their bookings outside the US have jumped 450% as international travelers jump on an opportunity they haven’t had in 18 months: traveling.

Safety will be a crucial factor as the U.S. prepares to reopen its borders. Leaders are restricting travel to fully vaccinated passengers. Those wishing to fly, will have to show a negative COVID-19 test result taken up to 3 days before their flight. Kids aged 2 and older won’t necessarily have to be vaccinated but will also have to show a negative COVID-19 test result.