Tampa Bay tries to lure tourists back

The Buffalo News - - CONTINUED FROM THE COVER - By Tierra Smith

TAMPA – Now that Hur­ri­cane Irma’s winds have passed, Tampa Bay’s tourism in­dus­try is ea­ger to get visi­tors fly­ing back in. The mes­sage: Irma hasn’t de­railed us.

“The tourism in­dus­try is re­silient,” said Leroy Williams, me­dia and in­ter­ac­tive di­rec­tor at Visit St. Pete/Clear­wa­ter. “It’s im­por­tant to get back to nor­mal as soon as pos­si­ble.”

“It’s busi­ness as usual,” added San­ti­ago Cor­rada, pres­i­dent and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. “We are in good shape to con­tinue tourism here.”

While sym­pa­thetic to hard­hit des­ti­na­tions such as the Florida Keys, Jack­sonville and Mi­ami Beach, Cor­rada said part of the mes­sag­ing to tourists is that not all of Florida was im­pacted the same way. Tampa Bay came out well con­sid­er­ing the projections of po­ten­tial flood­ing, storm surge and wind dam­age.

“Un­less you lived through an event like Hur­ri­cane An­drew,” he said, “you don’t un­der­stand how very for­tu­nate we are.”

Many lo­cal ho­tels – if they have power – are booked and busy al­ready. Even with­out an in­flux of trav­el­ers, they have plenty of pow­er­less res­i­dents and out-of-town re­lief work­ers fill­ing their rooms.

Yet, there’s still room to ac­com­mo­date more guests, said Bob Mor­ri­son, di­rec­tor of the Hills­bor­ough County Ho­tel & Mo­tel As­so­ci­a­tion.

As more homes get power re­stored, more rooms are be­com­ing avail­able, he said. At the same time, more ho­tels are re­gain­ing elec­tric­ity and open­ing up again.

Most of the top tourist at­trac­tions – in­clud­ing Busch Gar­dens, the Florida Aquar­ium, the Tampa River­walk and Lowry Park Zoo – are back open. Tampa In­ter­na­tional Air­port opened with lim­ited op­er­a­tions Tues­day, and St. Pete-Clear­wa­ter Air­port re­sumed flights Wed­nes­day.

Sports fans will also spill into town to at­tend sev­eral foot­ball games in­clud­ing the Tampa Clas­sic, a matchup be­tween Florida A&M and Ten­nessee State, and the Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers tak­ing on the Chicago Bears.

Pa­trick Burns, man­ager of the Crys­tal Bay Ho­tel in St. Peters­burg, said he re­ceived a few wor­ried calls from in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers, whom he re­as­sured that the ho­tel was ready for guests.

“We are not miss­ing a beat,” he said. “If they get here by the weekend, they won’t even know the dif­fer­ence.”

Tourism is a big eco­nomic driver for Tampa Bay and the state with con­sis­tent record­set­ting tourism num­bers. Last year, 22.6 mil­lion peo­ple vis­ited Tampa and Hills­bor­ough County pump­ing nearly $6 bil­lion into the econ­omy, ac­cord­ing to a study com­mis­sioned by Visit Tampa Bay.

Pinel­las County had more than 15 mil­lion visi­tors to­tal­ing about $10 bil­lion in eco­nomic im­pact, ac­cord­ing to Visit St. Pete/Clear­wa­ter.

TradeWinds Is­land Grand Re­sort on St. Pete Beach is com­pletely booked this weekend host­ing close to 1,200 Duke En­ergy work­ers, who ar­rived Mon­day night to help re­store power through­out the area. The en­ergy com­pany com­mis­sioned close to 13,000 ad­di­tional outof-state work­ers.

Keith Over­ton, pres­i­dent of TradeWinds, ex­pects a quiet and slow weekend with lim­ited ho­tel staff, as the en­ergy line­men work through­out the day and are pro­vided meals off-site.

St. Peters­burg’s Vi­noy Re­nais­sance Re­sort and Golf Club is also sold out but was fully booked be­fore Irma.

“We are back on our feet again,” Vibeke San­sone , the di­rec­tor of sales and mar­ket­ing, said. She added the prop­erty re­ceived lit­tle flood dam­age and a few bro­ken win­dows, which tem­po­rar­ily made some rooms un­avail­able. The golf course is with­out power.

Not ev­ery ho­tel was un­touched. The morn­ing af­ter Irma, a large amount of de­bris from the roof of the Howard John­son Re­sort Ho­tel in St. Pete Beach was scat­tered across the park­ing lot. Nev­er­the­less, the ho­tel opened Fri­day.

Bob Sauer­wine, gen­eral man­ager of Post­card Inn, re­ported lit­tle dam­age.

“Ev­ery­thing is to­tally fine; we’re fully op­er­a­tional,” he said.

Mean­while, Hur­ri­cane Jose may threaten New York City and other ar­eas of the East Coast by next week, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter.

The storm, about 480 miles south-south­east of Cape Hat­teras, N.C., strength­ened into a Cat­e­gory 1 hur­ri­cane late Fri­day as it churned through the At­lantic Ocean.

Jose’s path could put it near New Jer­sey and New York by Wed­nes­day morn­ing, al­though it may weaken to a trop­i­cal storm again by then, the cen­ter said.

As of Satur­day morn­ing, Jose was mov­ing north­west at 9 miles an hour with max­i­mum sus­tained winds of 80 mph.

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