Aggressive marketing in Europe, including the addition of a flight from Zurich to Tampa, seems to be paying off for Pinellas County, as a 7 percent growth in transatlantic visitors last year helped fuel the local tourism industry's growth.
As of November, Pinellas County enjoyed a 3.9 percent overall increase in visitors compared to the previous year, according to numbers released by the Tourist Development Council Wednesday.
Most visitors came from the Midwest and Northeast, followed by Europe; but Europeans represented the largest growth segment, with 61,284 more visitors in the first 11 months of 2012, compared to the previous year, according to data collected by Walter Klages of Research Data Services, a consultant for the tourist council.
Pinellas County began targeting travelers in the United Kingdom and Germany years before the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, said longtime office manager Sandy Galloway, whose retirement was announced at Wednesday's meeting.
Years ago, the county led the way for the state in wooing European travelers by hosting select groups of 150 or 200 visitors, she said.
"The leaders just felt way back then that was a market," she said. "They didn't know how big it would get at the time, but we made sure that we had a rep in the UK and a little bit later [there] was a rep in Germany."
Another contributor to Pinellas' tourism growth in 2012 was the Republican National Convention in Tampa last August. Many delegates and other convention visitors stayed in Pinellas, but the county saw increased lodging not connected to the event.
After the county hit a record in bed tax collections of $28.7 million for the fiscal year that ended in September, collections declined a little in November, visitors bureau executive director D.T. Minich said. The 5 percent bed tax on short-term accommodations funds the county's tourism efforts.
While other Florida destinations have cut their European marketing budgets in recent years, Pinellas has kept a strong presence overseas, Minich said.
"Typically it takes two to three domestics to replace the economic impact of one international visitor because of length of stay and spend," he said.