By: Alex Kaptzan, Visit Tampa Bay
With bittersweet emotions, we gathered in the lot near the Yacht Starship to embark on our last official day of Leadership Tampa. Though every outing this year had its own learnings and fun, ending with Tourism Day was a good strategy. We were given our bus buddy assignments and headed out to our first stop, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
We had a great breakfast in the Gwazi Pavilion, definitely the best breakfast of the year. We heard briefly from our day chair, Troy Manthey of Yacht Starship. He informed us that it was travel, specifically for Super Bowl XXXV that brought him and his company to Tampa in 2001.
We were welcomed by Jim Dean, president of Busch Gardens and Adventure Island. He shared how both parks were having their best year ever so far! They had just finished the Food & Wine Fest, were preparing for Summer Nights, had recently opened Falcon’s Fury and Colossal Curl and also have new attractions in the works. He also spoke about a new initiative in conjunction with USF to make the area more of a living/playing/working environment.
We then heard from Thom Stork of the Florida Aquarium who discussed how tourism is the economic engine that drives Tampa Bay. He asked, by a show of hands, “Who has worked in the tourism industry?” Not too surprisingly, the vast majority of LT 2015 raised their hands.
Next was Roger Dow, president/CEO of the U.S. Travel Association and the first speaker of our rock star tourism panel. He reminded us that he is a Pinellas county resident and although he could live anywhere in the world, he chooses to reside in Tampa Bay. We also watched the U.S. Travel Association video and learned some interesting facts:
- Travel is the top 10 employer in every state with a multi-billion dollar impact
- The travel industry adds $140 billion annually to the U.S. economy
- 1 in 9 American jobs are related to the industry
Our second panelist was Santiago Corrada, president/CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. Visit Tampa Bay is marketing our area as a total package destination. He also shared details on the many exciting developments in the works such as the Jeff Vinik project among others. We watched the Visit Tampa Bay destination video and most of us realized what we sometimes forget that we have such a cool city with various activities and attractions. Corrada reminded us to see the city like a tourist. He encouraged us to get out and enjoy some of the many reasons we live here in Tampa.
The next speaker was David Downing, executive director of the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area CVB. Pinellas County covers several diverse cities and populations with differing and complex needs. He explained how tourism pays for tourism by citing Tropicana Field and beach re-nourishment as examples.
Our last panelist was Will Seccombe, president and CEO of Visit Florida. Seccombe reminded us that tourism is the reason Florida doesn’t have state income tax. As a state, we welcomed 98.9 million visitors in 2014 and have had record breaking numbers the last 4 years!
Then it was off to Lowry Park Zoo where we learned about the zoo itself as well as their current exhibit Zoominations. Lowry Park Zoo receives 4 percent of local government revenue and generates $50 million per year in economic impact. We also heard from Craig Pugh, executive director and CEO of Lowry Park Zoo.
After Lowry Park we loaded back up on the buses and headed back downtown to the Florida Aquarium where we heard from Thom Stork, president and CEO of the Florida Aquarium. Stork informed us that this year is the 20th anniversary of the Florida Aquarium. Before it existed, there was very little downtown and few reasons anyone would visit. The Florida Aquarium was first, which led to the development of the Amalie Arena which in turn helped develop the Marriott Waterside Hotel. It was a catalyst for much of what exists downtown today and another reason Jeff Vinik is now implementing his vision.
We then had our second panel of the day which included the following speakers:
- Brenda Thrower, Economic Development Specialist, Ybor City
- Jeff Seward, CFO HART
- Katie Edmiston, Tampa Attractions Association board member
When the panel discussion concluded, the aquarium staff showcased their brilliantly renovated learning center and had us do a fun activity to learn about Loggerhead Sea Turtles. From the aquarium we boarded the historic streetcar (many of us no doubt for the first time) and were shuttled down to the Tampa Convention Center for the last panel of the day that included:
- Jeff Weinthaler, general manager of Embassy Suites Downtown
- Rick Hamilton, convention center and tourism director
- Jason Carroll, director of sales at the Florida Aquarium and international council chair of Meetings Professionals International
When we left the convention center we walked outside and were welcomed aboard the Yacht Starship. To our surprise, when we went upstairs, many of our friends and family were there waiting for us! It was a great way to end our last official day. After a quick cruise around Harbour Island we went back to our cars and it was over. Once again Tourism Day was definitely the best way to end Leadership Tampa 2015!