Thursday, May 25, 2006

Bare is Big in Pasco County, Florida

Festivals Rank 1st In Tourism Poll
By JULIA FERRANTE – Tampa Tribune

Published: May 11, 2006

Festivals, beaches, family and nudist resorts are the biggest draws for tourists in Pasco County, according to a survey released Wednesday.

About 23 percent of visitors come to the county to attend special events, such as the Kumquat Festival in St. Joseph and Chasco Fiesta in New Port Richey. About 20 percent visit for beaches, "sun" or parks, while 16 percent are visiting relatives and 12 percent visit nudist and clothing-optional resorts.

The county commission last year hired the University of Florida's Center for Tourism Research and Development to conduct the survey for $29,500. The study is the first of its kind in Pasco. Officials hoped to determine whether they are promoting Pasco as a tourist destination the best way they can.

In her final report, lead researcher Lori Pennington-Gray said Pasco "received strong, positive ratings from visitors overall."

More than a quarter surveyed - 27 percent - said they were staying with family or friends, while a combined 49 percent stayed at hotels, motels or resorts. The remainder stay in mobile homes and campgrounds.

Pasco Public Communications Coordinator Diane Jones said most visitors learn about the county by word of mouth. About 30 percent get information from the Internet. Jones said Pasco needs to do a better job of informing residents about tourism opportunities so they can tell their friends.

"The research was very positive and gave us good insight into what we need to do to promote tourism," Jones said.

Researchers collected 1,395 surveys from June 1, 2004, to Dec. 31, 2005, from a random sample of visitors at festivals, nature- and water-based activities and historic attractions. Researchers discontinued the survey between September and December 2004, when many of Florida's hotels were filled with those displaced by hurricanes.

The county collects about $700,000 a year through a 2 percent tax on hotel stays and short-term rentals, according to the state Department of Revenue, but the state does not release whether guests and tenants are on vacation, visiting family or attending funerals or weddings.

Half of Pasco's tourism tax proceeds are earmarked for construction related to tourism, 40 percent for promotion and 10 percent for administrative expenses. Revenue not spent during a year is transferred to the construction fund. State laws determine how tourism tax dollars can be spent.

Also Wednesday, the tourism council directed county staff to research opportunities for promoting Pasco as a sporting events destination, Jones said. The board also endorsed a request to spend $24,386 on a tourism promotion van, which would be decorated with graphics and photographs of Pasco tourist attractions. The county commission would have to approve the purchase.



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