Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tampa, Tourism, Transportation and Taxes

Re-Posted from Eye on Tampa Bay

Surprise! A couple of taxpayer funded agencies have come out to support... a tax increase!

Without a better transportation system, tourism in the Tampa area is likely to shrink from its current record levels and the region will lose its capacity to draw businesses to the urban core, according to two groups that promote economic development.

Both Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Downtown Partnership sent letters Dec. 18 to the Hillsborough County commission supporting Go Hillsborough, an initiative designed to raise millions of dollars for an improved transportation system.

Both groups are urging the county commission to pursue all possible funding sources to create a modern transportation network, including a referendum for an increase in the county’s sales tax, higher gas taxes, and more contributions toward transportation from developers.
But we're told we have an awful transportation system as it is, yet we've done little at the county level to improve it over the last decade other than a failed attempt to jam light rail at us.

But the tourists are still arriving in Tampa at record levels despite our failures. Shhh... don't tell them they should not come here.

Did you notice they are for "referendum for an increase in the county’s sales tax, higher gas taxes, and more contributions toward transportation from developers"? How much money do they want? It is interesting that Visit Tampa Bay and Tampa Downtown Partnership are supporting two of three legs of the Plan B proposal made by Sandy Murman, I did not know they were evil anti-tax Tea Partiers. Of course, they apparently don't think transportation is important enough to re-prioritize the lack of investment in the current budget.

Then they compare us to several international cities.
When tourists visit Amsterdam, they get around the city by light rail, boat or bus sharing space with the local population. In London, Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C., it’s typically by subway, bus or cab. Panama City, Panama, has a system with 1,200 buses to take tourists and residents almost anywhere in the city.

When tourists come to the Tampa area, they have two major options — rent a car or take a taxi, said Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, the county’s tourism agency.
I don't know for sure, but I don't think too many people are traveling to Amsterdam to ride their light rail, or Panama City to ride a bunch of buses. Tourists visit places because they have some unique attraction to offer, different than where they live.

Which begs the question. Why did they not compare us to some closer to home cities such as Orlando and Miami, both major tourist destinations?

Could it be that Orlando transit is certainly not any better than Tampa Bay area, and Sunrail has made no dent traffic relief or tourism? Could it be that Disney has chosen to transport thousands of guests around their resorts and attractions every single day by bus? Disney decided bust was the most flexible, efficient and cost effective way to move large numbers of people around their park. There is some reason they never expanded that monorail.

Could it be that Miami tourism continues to thrive, despite bad traffic and a rail system that does little for tourist destinations? Tri-Rail is practically non-existent as far as tourists are concerned.

Visit Tampa Bay recently reported some great news, as Tampa Bay tourism revenues soar nearly 20 percent in October.
Visit Tampa Bay and Hillsborough County generated nearly 20 percent more Tourist Development Taxes in October than the same month in 2014, according to the latest report from the county Tax Collector’s Office....
October’s bed taxes were the largest ever collected for that month....
Vacation travel to Tampa Bay was up 18 percent over the same month last year. The largest tour operator sending visitors to Tampa Bay say its business grow by 56 percent year-over-year in October. Vacation travelers make up more than three-quarters of Tampa Bay’s tourism business.
And this nugget.
As a result of such strong performance, Tampa Bay led its 10 national competitors in the rate of growth for hotel occupancy in October.
Hillsborough also continues to lead its competitors so far this year for growth in both occupancy and hotel profitability. Hillsborough’s competitive set includes: Orlando and Fort Lauderdale; Austin, Fort Worth and San Antonio, Texas; Nashville, Tenn.; Charlotte, N.C.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Long Beach, Calif.; and Baltimore.
Someone should tell Visit Tampa Bay we have something those other places don't have that people are willing to spend their hard earned money for a visit to Tampa Bay.

Everyone likes our beaches
Meanwhile, the combination of recent spring like weather has resulted in traffic jamsaround Pinellas beaches.
Traffic jams and near non-existent parking spaces came with the crowds in many places.
Falkenstein said he saw two open spaces along the Pass-a-Grille beach just before noon, and traffic to Clearwater Beach was at a crawl for more than five miles.

Standard said it took about 30 minutes to drive from Plant City to Clearwater, “but it took 40 minutes to go the last six miles or so.” Sand Key, a county beach park, was one of the few places with open parking spaces.
We can be sure to add a train from Plant City to Clearwater into our transit plans. Let's check in on the progress in a couple of decades. But in the mean time, the tourists will keep on coming for the attraction of some of the best beaches in the world and the rest of the best Tampa Bay has to offer.
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