The University of South Florida’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management is expanding its program to create more talent and meet growing industry demands.
“Tourism is the number one industry in Florida,” said Cihan Cobanoglu, dean of USF’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
It’s growing quickly.
“It is the lifeline of the state,” said Cobanoglu.
“It is a critical economic driver for our state and here locally. The reason we don’t have an income tax in Florida is because of our visitor economy,” said Santiago Corrada, President and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay.
The problem is many businesses can’t keep up.
“We need to continue to grow our workforce,” said Corrada. “The industry right now has a huge shortage."
USF students will see new classes this fall as the school improves its curriculum to reflect the current industry.
Before classes have even started, USF has seen huge interest.
“Our enrollment increased 100%,” said Cobanoglu.
That’s a testament to how badly this is needed to get more people working in everything from restaurants to hotels, attractions, management, and everything in between.
“We as a public institution have an obligation to be able to meet the needs of our industry,” said Cobanoglu.
“It’s an industry with lots of skill sets that can appeal to a lot of different people,” said Corrada.
Experts said tourism is something that will always be a part of Florida. Proof of that can be seen in how the industry has been able to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“February of 2020 we had the best February ever of Hillsborough County. Our occupancy then was over 87%. When you think about that, every nine out of 10 hotel rooms were being occupied," said Corrada.
Then in March 2020, the industry came to a screeching halt.
“We went from 87% occupancy to 50% occupancy and then April of 2020, worst month in our history with 23% occupancy,” said Corrada.
However, every month after April 2020, there was improvement.
“April of 21, one short year later, we were back to breaking records,” said Corrada.
Experts believe the sky is the limit for Florida and Tampa Bay, with the potential for even more growth.
“When you look at here, Tampa, Clearwater, St. Pete, Sarasota, Bradenton, these are all the gems people spend tons of money to fly to these places,” said Cobanoglu.
“We could hit a billion dollars on taxable hotel revenue this year. So we are a major destination,” said Corrada.