The county’s formerly sleepy, nature-centric manner of attracting visitors is giving way to a high-powered, aggressive approach that, if everything goes according to plan, will soon yield a new brand that is expected to focus on the county’s diverse offerings.
Executive director Adam Thomas of the Pasco County Visitor Bureau has commissioned Tallahassee-based public relations firm Zimmerman Agency, LLC, to help coordinate a brand relaunch at a cost of $481,000. In other words, the motto “Open spaces. Vibrant Places.” could be giving way to something that reaches a broader, more defined audience.
“We are building a platform that is going to springboard us into the future and will make us relevant in the Florida tourism market,” Thomas says.
Working with local leaders, the Zimmerman Agency is expected to unveil a draft plan by Aug. 31, and the new brand for Pasco tourism could launch in early October.
Thomas says his goal is to help develop a “life-cycle” of tourism, where visitors fall in love with the area they are visiting, and decide to relocate their families or businesses here, and feed the ongoing growth of Pasco County.
While the county already boasts a variety of festivals and outdoor activities, as well as a bustling western coastline attractive to those who like water sports like fishing, inland suburban areas like Wesley Chapel have evolved quickly to offer even more, like two thriving shopping malls.
If tourism in Pasco County felt somewhat staid in the past, it could have been for a lack of product that is now becoming more ample.
Wesley Chapel already is proving there is fruit on the sports tree, thanks to the overwhelming and immediate success of Florida Hospital Center Ice (FHCI).
Helped by a two-percent increase in the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) last year to help pay for a new sports complex (see below) in Wiregrass Ranch, FHCI deserves to receive at least some of the credit for the recent boost in tourism dollars filling county coffers.
The TDT has raised more than $200,000 every month through June this year, with a high of $355,279 in April. Last year, the most it raised in any month was $157,942.
Managing partner Gordie Zimmermann (no relation to the agency) says FHCI is booked almost every weekend with hockey tournaments and other events, a majority of them requiring at least a two-night stay.
There is a rush to build more hotels (the Hyatt Place just opened and three more are on the way along S.R. 56), so visitors have a place to stay, and FHCI is more than able to fill them. “We didn’t have as many places to stay in Pasco County in the past,” says District 2 Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore. “Now, the visitors that may have come to Pasco for a day trip or to visit family can stay. We now have (hotels).”
Moore also said that in the past, the county has lost out on events, due to a lack of facilities, like FHCI, hotels and even enough shopping options and restaurants.
“Now, we can handle all of those visitors,” says Moore, who lives in Wesley Chapel.
Our area should be prepared to handle even more in 2019 and, as a result, more hotels and restaurants are on the way.
“I don’t know if they have ever seen anything like this in the history of the county, and we’re really just ramping up,” Zimmermann says. “We have a lot of different events coming in 2019 that we didn’t even have in 2018. It’s something every week.”
Even the “American Idol” auditions held last week (and one year ago) produced overnight stays. However, it has been the various ice sports, from youth and adult hockey to figure skating events, driving Wesley Chapel’s increased impact on county-wide tourism.
FHCI recently hosted a roller hockey tournament featuring 200 teams over the course of 10 days. Any number of events the facility has already hosted are the largest Pasco County has ever seen, Zimmermann says.
“I’m not surprised by the increase in tourism right now,” says Hope Allen, the CEO of the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce. “We can definitely tip our hat to Gordie for the majority of that.”
Next year, the new RADDSports-developed Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex will enter the tourism market and, like FHCI, is likely to make a huge impact of its own.
Thomas also hopes to shine a spotlight on some of Pasco County’s other treasures, including those that speak to the county’s reputation for open spaces, even if those seem to shrinking.
He said “influencers” in the travel industry will be enlisted to spread the word, even travel bloggers, many of whom have large audiences.
On a recent travel post, a blogger wrote of a trip she took, sponsored by VisitPasco, to the county. She wrote (and posted videos) about staying at the Hilton Garden Inn near the Suncoast Pkwy., where to rent a car or a bike, cycling through Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park, enjoying a balloon ride in Land O’Lakes, ziplining at TreeHoppers Aerial Adventure Park in Dade City and enjoying great food at Capital Tacos and Noble Crust in Wesley Chapel.
“Those are the people that can persuade someone’s travel plans,” Thomas says. “It’s all about finding different ways and different strategies.”