Pinellas County's tourism industry rebounding from $2 billion hit

Posted at 9:09 AM, Apr 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-27 18:18:18-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Pinellas County’s tourism industry took a more than $2 billion hit from COVID-19, according to Visit St. Pete Clearwater.

Hotels that once faced months of slow sales are just now starting to rebound from their worst year on the books. Yet, hope is returning as new bookings start to come in and tourists return to our sandy shores.

Katrena Hale is the owner of Sand Glo Villas in Indian Shores. She says the year of COVID-19 will be a vivid memory throughout her lifetime.

“It was like absolutely nothing I’ve ever lived through,” she said.

Hale has experienced a lot in her 21 years owning her small vacation villa, from hurricanes to red tide, but nothing she says compares to COVID-19.

“Red tide was challenging for a month. This COVID situation was challenging for the whole year,” she added.

Hale’s property is small which means even one cancelation can impact her bottom line.

“It makes it extremely difficult because we have just 6 villas that we rent out and every one of them count and every one of them need to be booked,” Hale elaborated.

Nine miles down Gulf Boulevard, Christine Bottger at the Holiday Inn Clearwater Beach has 209 rooms to manage.

“Everything came to a complete halt and to see things this year is a completely different picture,” she said.

Previous economic studies on disease outbreaks found it can take up to 12-15 months for tourism to fully bounce back, but in Florida, there’s a lot of pent-up demand and hotels tell ABC Action News that tourism is already coming back.

“It is a huge relief! Tourism is coming back and it’s coming back strong,” Bottger added.

Hale is seeing something very similar. She once again can happily post a “no vacancy” message outside Sand Glo Villas.

“It has been so busy this year that I’ve honestly had more late-night phone calls and during the day than I’ve had in five or 10 years,” she said with excitement.

Tampa Bay has fared far better than anywhere else in the nation when it comes to tourism during the pandemic. Our hotel occupancy is higher than any other U.S. market. One big factor: Tourists have been looking to outdoor destinations to stay safe.

“I’m seeing the booking patterns into the near future, they’re not slowing down. They’re continuing. It’s a good sign. It’s a great sign actually,” Bottger added.

With views like we have on Pinellas County’s coastline, it’s no surprise people are flocking to our coast for a much-needed escape from one heck of a year.