Wednesday, Nov 26, 2014

Pinellas more closely monitoring "elite" tourism events


Published:   |   Updated: July 18, 2013 at 02:12 PM

CLEARWATER - Organizers of Pinellas County's biggest annual events had to do more than make strong pitches this year to qualify for nearly $1 million in county bed-tax money.

The Tourist Development Council required applicants such as the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the Beef O'Brady's Bowl to submit estimated attendance and room night numbers to get approved for 2014 funding.

The tourism council on Wednesday approved $982,500 for eight events, which reported drawing more than 440,000 people and giving their host cities exposure on national television.

Applications for a science fair and a music festival in St. Petersburg were rejected because both fell below the baselines of 15,000 attendees or 5,000 hotel room nights.

The county's biggest so-called elite event, the Honda Grand Prix, was approved for $250,000 after reporting attendance of 130,000 people and more than 27,000 hotel nights during the IndyCar race, held in March.

The new requirement helps county officials better evaluate the economic benefit of sponsoring these events, St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau Director D.T. Minich said.

"I think it was more of just a verification that the numbers were there - that they had the attendance or the room nights that qualified them," Minich said.

Applicants were required to explain how they tabulated attendance, but it's still difficult to independently verify the numbers because they are self-reported, Minich said.

The tourism council set aside $1.25 million for elite events this year as part of its larger promotional budget, but the applicants did not use all of the money.

Elite event funding has grown from $600,000 in the 2012 fiscal year to $982,500 for the coming year, driven by record tax collections on overnight stays in the county.

All of the approved events have received funding in years past, and they all deliver a strong, measurable impact on the tourism industry, said TDC chairman Ken Welch.

"They're all very solid events, said Welch, the chairman of the Pinellas County Commission. "They all give us great impact in terms of overnight visitors as well as nationwide and international exposure."

jboatwright@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-1277

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