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Tourist dollars filter through economy and benefit us all

Published May 12, 2004

As residents of Clearwater, Pinellas County, the Tampa Bay area and Florida, we cannot help but recognize that tourism has an impact on us. We see it in the vehicles with out-of-state plates surrounding us in high-volume traffic. We see it when we have to wait to eat at our favorite restaurants. We have friends and relatives visit us from other parts of the country and world because we live in "paradise."

Tourism is a year-round business for our area, yet during the spring of every year, the number of visitors to Clearwater swells significantly enough to be called visitor "high season." This time of year, especially, sees an increased frustration on the part of our residents, but we all need to take a few minutes to think about how valuable these visitors are to us.

Tourism is our No. 1 industry. According to the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, more than 4.8-million people visited Pinellas County last year, spending more than $2.7-billion in the obvious places: hotels, restaurants and lounges, attractions and retail establishments. Visitors also spend money in service stations, hospitals, coin laundries, tanning salons, funeral homes, doctors' and dentists' offices, newspaper stands and grocery and convenience stores. The list could go on and on. CVB survey results show Clearwater hosts one-third of these visitors and benefited from their direct expenditures of just under $1-billion last year.

The total economic impact of these visitor dollars in Pinellas County was $5.4-billion. The total economic impact of visitor dollars in Clearwater was $1.8-billion. You very well may be thinking that these dollars don't end up in your pocket. In fact, every dollar a visitor to our area spends circulates through every part of the economy.

For example, a visitor buys a cup of coffee at a Clearwater Beach coffee shop. The shop owner uses part of that dollar to pay for the coffee itself, which was purchased from a local distributor. The distributor uses this money to pay the driver who delivered the coffee. The driver pays his household utility bill and the utility contracts for improved infrastructure. This utility contract employs 20 construction workers. One morning on the way to work, the 20 workers stop by the very same coffee shop and each has a cup of coffee.

Without the infusion of our visitors' money, considered new money in our economy, our quality of life would suffer. There might be a state income tax. We would pay more in taxes, because visitors wouldn't be paying 21 percent of Florida's taxable sales and the need for that revenue wouldn't disappear. Visit Florida estimates 15 percent of us would be unemployed. Those 15 percent wouldn't be spending their wages in area businesses. We wouldn't have the high quality and quantity of area amenities, including restaurants, attractions and numerous service businesses. We wouldn't have the wide choice of airlines and destinations to which to fly.

It is important to recognize that the travel and tourism industry has become big business for much of the world. Sun and sand and amusement are available in hundreds of competing destinations. Aggressive marketing is important but so are a clean, modern tourism product and friendly "locals."

The Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce recognizes the value of tourism to our area and works diligently with our tourism industry partners to expand economic activity in the community and further the quality of life we enjoy.

For example, we publish Clearwater's official visitor guide and ensure that it reaches the hands of hundreds of thousands of consumers and travel trade employees throughout the world. We coordinate destination and cooperative advertising opportunities designed to entice visitors to our area and to our businesses. We answer more than 500,000 inquiries a year on the area, which doesn't include the people who use our Web sites for their travel planning.

Recognizing the significant positive impact Tampa and Orlando visitors have on the destination, we have built strong alliances with industry groups there. We convened our Beach Task Force to delve into the economic impact of condominium development on the tourism character of Clearwater Beach. We are working closely with Clearwater to ensure the Harborview Center attracts more conventions, each resulting in millions of dollars of economic impact.

This is National Tourism Week. Too many of us will ignore it. This is unfortunate because tourism is clean and healthy economic development, and without it we would all pay more taxes and our quality of life would suffer.

When you think of all the ways our visitors contribute to our quality of life - retail expenditures, jobs, tax collection, beach renourishment - hopefully it will be a little easier to be patient the next time you are caught behind a lost out-of-state driver or have to wait a bit for a table at a popular restaurant.

- Holly H. Duncan is chairwoman of the board of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce and president of the Morton Plant Mease Foundation. She lives in the Countryside area of Clearwater.

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