PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Travel bookings are hitting levels in Tampa Bay that we’ve never seen before and with just weeks to go until the peak summer travel season tourism leaders tell ABC Action News that the local tourism industry has not only rebounded from the COVID-19 pandemic, but shattered new records.
Ian Krystik at Fusion Resort in Treasure Island has seen tremendous bookings and he said it isn’t slowing down anytime soon, as summer bookings also ramp up.
“The rooms are great, the whole property is wonderful, our marina is nice, but the crown gem is our rooftop view,” he said while pointing out the waterfront. “Everybody wants to travel. Everyone wants to get out and do something after all that time being in their houses,” he elaborated.
In Pinellas County, hotels reached 84% occupancy in March 2022. That’s 3% higher than the state’s average occupancy and enough to rake in $9.48 million in tourist tax collections.
Steve Hayes, the CEO of Visit St. Pete Clearwater said travel has bounced back in a big way.
“People feel like I have a right to travel, it’s something I want to do whether I’m going 50 miles or 500 miles,” he said.
Hayes added there’s still room for improvement in the corporate and convention market and international bookings. Yet, domestic bookings are making a major comeback.
It’s something travel expert Donald Oneal said he hasn’t seen to this magnitude in his 41 years of experience.
“It’s just unbelievable how busy we are," Oneal said. "It’s like everyone has had cabin fever and they all woke up on the same Spring day and decided we want to go somewhere."
Oneal said cabin fever is paired with hotel and cruise credits now set to expire at the end of this year. That’s accelerating demand and making everything more expensive.
“Gas prices have gone up so much since the first of the year, airline tickets have exploded in pricing," he said. "My advice to anyone contemplating buying an airline ticket, is do it today."
The average cost to stay the night in one of Pinellas County’s hotels in March was at $268.77, up 37% from last year. Meanwhile, air travel is expected to peak this month at around $360, that’s $125 bucks more than it cost to fly in January, according to research firm Hopper’s monthly Consumer Airfare Index Report.
Yet, even though travel is costing more, many tourists tell ABC Action News they’re just happy to be out and about again.
“It makes me feel excellent. It’s freedom really,” Shelly Metz, who flew into St. Pete Clearwater International Airport Monday from Ohio, said.
In Pinellas Co., enhanced tourism is a good thing for the 90,000 employees and counting who make a living showing off the best Tampa Bay has to offer.
“That’s what I’m excited for because the businesses are the backbone of what we have in our community," Hayes said. "For them to get off that lifeline and see the money come in and be able to support jobs."
Hotel revenue in Pinellas County was up 43% from March 2021 to March 2022, with hoteliers making a collected $156.8 million in revenue, according to figures from Visit St. Pete Clearwater.
Visit St. Pete Clearwater is celebrating the US Travel Association’s National Travel and Tourism Week May 2-6 by hosting travel rallies, park cleanups, a bocce ball tournament, and a conversation about the future of travel and beach conservation in Tampa Bay.