Inspite of steep statewide drops, tourism leaders in Polk County remain optimistic about the upcoming of the county’s greatest business enterprise.
“We are down — the complete state is down — but in comparison to our neighboring counties and the point out over-all, we are faring extremely, incredibly effectively due to the fact of points like our sports and special situations,” mentioned Justin Laferriere, senior customer solutions supervisor for Pay a visit to Central Florida. “Whilst we are down, it is not as poor as it might look, and we are beginning to see incremental progress and development in the tourism industry.”
Area Polk County tourism leaders credit score the county’s resilience to its aim on sporting events, which they explained have permitted for more social distancing and other COVID-safe and sound protocols.
At the statewide degree, tourism numbers strike a small for the 10 years in 2020. According to preliminary figures from the tourism-internet marketing agency Check out Florida, the tourism marketplace has noticed a 34% fall in people in 2020 in comparison with 2019.
The fall can be attributed to COVID-19. Wellness and protection dangers bordering leisure travel and the important crowds drawn to common attractions these as theme parks saved quite a few inside of. Accommodations and places to eat that depend on the numbers pulled in by vacationer scorching spots also endured and remain teetering on the edge of survival approximately a calendar year into the onset of the coronavirus.
How Polk County Survived
While Polk County has not been immune, points could be even worse, mentioned Mark Jackson, executive director of Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing and advertising..
“Our figures are considerably improved than the point out of Florida,” Jackson claimed. “In fact, they are a lot improved than the surrounding counties.”
Jackson stated that the county is greatly reliant on the tourism sector, which he stated rakes in $2.4 billion each year for the space. He’s optimistic that the economy will get well by 2022, as he expects tourism to decide up drastically about the summer season before experiencing an additional slight dip in the slide.
Jackson mentioned the best metric to appraise tourism performance is in general demand, seen by analyzing the quantity of right away stays in a provided period of time of time. He extra that if you glimpse at that selection for December 2020 in contrast with December 2019, the U.S. was down 33.9% in total desire.
Bringing it back again to Florida, Jackson claimed the condition was down 37.9% in December in comparison with the calendar year prior. To the east, Orange County was down 57.6% and Osceola County was down 52%. To the west, Hillsborough County was down 31.3%.
“Polk County, in comparison to our bordering counties, we’re at very first area with 18.2% down,” Jackson said.
Those numbers only take into account resort and motel stays, Jackson said.
Jacqueline Johnson, the senior vice president of the Lakeland Conference and People Bureau, characteristics the broad disparity to the sorts of gatherings encompassing counties have a tendency to target on for tourism bucks.
“If you glance at Osceola and Orange County, a major element of their business is conferences and conventions,” Johnson claimed. “They’re down a ton more than we are for the reason that we are ready to carry in all forms of sporting occasions and gatherings that we can social distance and do securely.”
Johnson mentioned conferences and conventions haven’t seriously returned due to the fact they take area indoors in confined areas. Small business vacation is also down.
In addition, Johnson claimed, some counties have made the decision to reduce COVID-19 exposure danger by not owning any situations at all. Polk County has picked up on that and poached situations from neighboring counties. A person such function was the FHSAA Cheerleading Point out Championship, which was moved to the RP Funding Heart in Lakeland soon after Gainesville declined to host.
“We’ve been in a position to recruit these gatherings, recruit new travellers, and which is what is stimulating Polk County’s economic climate,” Jackson said.
Johnson explained the county has viewed as significantly as a 28% reduction in tourism bucks in excess of the past year, but “we’ve picked back up.” She explained the county is ahead of its personal annual projections, which have been formerly modified to mirror the COVID-19 influence. If it continues to be ahead, they could pull out a 3rd history yr. She claimed the county will collect involving $11 million and $12 million in mattress tax collections this calendar year.
While the emphasis on sporting activities has stored Polk County from viewing as important a drop as neighboring counties, factors are considerably from back again to usual. For instance, the RussMatt baseball spring coaching celebration is moving forward, but as a shadow of its former self: as an alternative of bringing 280 teams to the county, there will only be 30. Jackson mentioned that’s since some schools and universities is not going to make it possible for teams to journey for non-conference enjoy.
“We have experienced hoteliers explain to us they perhaps wouldn’t be in small business suitable now if it wasn’t for the sporting functions,” Jackson claimed. “Our basic safety protocols have convinced businesses that we’re a safe and sound place to enjoy. And we are open up for business when other destinations were being struggling.”
Jackson mentioned that the earlier has shown sporting activities are “recession resistant,” creating them key to retaining Polk County in enterprise.
A different point that could enhance the county’s figures in 2021 as as opposed to 2020 is the return of large events. Laferriere with Go to Central Florida mentioned functions that were being postponed or canceled very last 12 months are again this year, these as an Iron Man event that was postponed in April until December and then eventually canceled. Laferriere stated it’s going to be back for 2021.
But there is by now been some growth: Laferriere said involving Oct 2019 and January 2020, there were being 66 occasions hosted in Polk County. In between October 2020 and January 2021, that number grew to 90.
In addition to sporting occasions, Polk County is zeroing in on other industries that have developed fairly than shrunk for the duration of the pandemic, these types of as RV parks and fishing.
Just simply because Polk County is faring far better than other sections of Florida would not mean corporations never have to have a increase.
Laferriere mentioned the county is down 22% in tourism advancement tax assortment, which is the 5% tax levied on accommodations lasting considerably less than six months, for the initial four months of the 2020-2021 fiscal 12 months as compared to the preceding 12 months.
Visit Central Florida’s program to boost that tax selection? Savings, discounts, personal savings.
“Buyers are searching for, naturally, discounts and cost cuts in this COVID entire world and a way to stretch that dollar a little further,” Laferriere reported. “Our mission is simple and straightforward: Set heads in beds and make money registers ring.”
Pay a visit to Central Florida is featuring the free Polk Price savings Move, which is a electronic cell discounts move that offers discounts and freebies at scorching places all over the county.
The pass has initially launched with 30 gives at eating places, shops, accommodations and sights this sort of as Bok Tower Gardens, the Polk Museum of Art and even the RP Funding Center.
Laferriere stated the program is to “aggressively” grow those offerings. Considering that the go is completely electronic, new deals can be additional throughout the yr, and participating organizations can also tweak what they have made the decision to offer buyers.
Laferriere stated the hope is that the pass will affect the selection-earning system for buyers and travel them into the doors of Polk County corporations, persuading them to “stay at our hotels, try to eat at our places to eat, go to our sights and shop in our outlets.”
When no person expects this yr to be a blockbuster, the actuality that Polk County has been ready to stave off worse declines has bred optimism in the tourism community. Time will tell if that optimism will translate to substantially-desired gains over the subsequent 12 months.
“It is taken an huge quantity of energy and organizing and exploration to get us wherever we are now,” Jackson stated. “We just need to have to keep that tempo up.”
Maya Lora can very best be reached at [email protected] or 863-802-7558. Observe on Twitter @mayaklora.