Pinellas County's giant tourism industry set records in 2012, and the trend continues in fiscal year 2013, which started October 1st.
"Knock on wood," Visit St. Pete-Clearwater's David Downing cautioned. "Right now, this fiscal year's only two months old, we're up 10 percent over last fiscal year. Last fiscal year was a record-breaking fiscal year, and that was on top of a year that was up."
Figures released Wednesday show nearly 294,000 overnight visitors in November, which is traditionally one of the slowest months of the year. The top feeder market was New York, despite October's Hurricane Sandy.
"That said, it's something we're tracking very closely," Downing admitted. "Our research firm is looking for anomalies in New York, looking for booking weakness in that market."
The tourism bureau is just now launching multimedia advertising campaigns in New York and Chicago.
If the upward trend held up through December, the number of visitors to Pinellas in calendar year 2012 will exceed 5 million for the first time, and their economic impact [direct and indirect spending] will top $7 billion.
Thousands of new jobs have been created in a recovery that started after 2009, when hospitality employment reached a bottom.
"Last year was certainly the best year in the history of our company," said Keith Overton, general manager of the Tradewinds Resorts, "We had more employees last year than we've ever had and I expect this year we'll have just as many if not more."
Overton said during the hard times his work force shrank from about 800 to 650. It is now at 860.
"This season should be the best season we've ever had," Overton predicted.
Both Overton and Downing cautioned the winds of fortune can suddenly shift. However at this moment, things are looking good.
"We've had a string of good weather going in the right direction. The economy, though not all the way back, has gotten to a place where people are more comfortable with travel. European concerns have kind of evened out," Downing noted.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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