Tampa Events: A Proactive Approach

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Tampa Events: A Proactive Approach

By Blair Potter | Jun 1, 2021

Though the meeting and event industry is still navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been very clear signs of recovery in some destinations. There is perhaps no better example than Tampa, Fla.

In February, the city hosted one of the most prominent outings on the annual global events calendar: Super Bowl LV. And though COVID protocols limited Raymond James Stadium’s capacity to 25,000 (it can accommodate up to 75,000 for special events), the city’s hotel occupancy reached an impressive 92.1 percent for Super Bowl weekend, according to STR, with hotel revenue exceeding $14 million.

Adam DePiro, vice president of convention sales for Visit Tampa Bay, says the city was able to welcome back major events and citywide meetings this spring on the heels of hosting Super Bowl LV.

“Visit Tampa Bay has been proactive in meetings and convention travel recovery over the past year with investments in a brand-new Hybrid Meeting Grant, new staffing additions, increased flexibility and dedicated communications to meetings looking to relocate,” DePiro says. “Consequently, 75 percent of previously cancelled conventions will be returning with future events.”

He says some events relocated to Tampa as a result of the city’s openness to new business and high standards of safety set by Tampa International Airport (recently ranked one of the most hygienic North American airports by Airports Council International) and the Tampa Convention Center (which recently achieved the Global Biorisk Advisory Council® STAR™ accreditation).

“March was a turning point for Tampa Bay tourism where we started to see substantial increases over a challenging prior year.”

“WrestleMania 37 relocated from Los Angeles to return to Tampa Bay this past April, the American Academy of Dermatology Association will meet in August after a relocation from New York and Connect Marketplace, also meeting in August, is a relocation,” DePiro says.

Santiago C. Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, says business travel has historically been the bedrock of hotel occupancy in Hillsborough County, where Tampa is located. March hotel occupancy was 70.2 percent, a 40 percent increase over 2020, with RevPAR up 19 percent. 

“March was a turning point for Tampa Bay tourism where we started to see substantial increases over a challenging prior year,” Corrada says. “It’s refreshing to see our data continue to improve into April and in some cases outperform select weeks in a record-breaking 2019 despite more hotel inventory. This just speaks to our hard work of retaining, relocating and rebooking meetings, and the success of our leisure-focused advertising campaign. [But] the key to full recovery is getting business travel back, and we are excited to see meetings and events return, rebook and relocate to Tampa Bay.”

The city has also been hard at work bolstering its meetings offerings and group attractions, with 12 recent hotel openings (including a JW Marriott), renovations at the Tampa Convention Center, expansion of Tampa International Airport and the addition of Water Street Tampa—a wellness-focused community featuring residences, hotels and restaurants.

“We look to the future as an encouraging foundation for rebuilding our industry,” DePiro says. “With major new hotels, restaurants and new attractions on the horizon, Tampa Bay will emerge stronger than ever.”

MPI Chapter Members Step Up

JC York, president of Classic Entertainment/Wise Guys InterACTive and president of the MPI Tampa Bay Area Chapter, says that despite the pandemic’s impact on the events schedule, the chapter was able to connect with members through educational and networking opportunities over the past year.

“It did afford our chapter the ability to engage our membership virtually by conducting educational programing (both by ourselves and by collaborating with the three other Florida MPI chapters) and developing weekly networking opportunities with our Coffee Talk series,” he says. “This gave us plenty of programs for our members to connect with each other, [but] also let us connect with members who aren’t in the immediate area of Tampa Bay.”

And although virtual programs continue, York says the chapter started hosting in-person events in the later part of 2020 using strict safety protocols, including the chapter’s biggest event since the pandemic began: Meetings Academy - Championship Edition on April 20.

“Again, while following safety protocols, I see this meeting as the beginning of a trend to have in-person meetings on a regular basis and have attendees feel comfortable to attend as well,” he says.

York says engaging members was important to chapter leaders as soon as possible after the pandemic began.

“I see this meeting as the beginning of a trend to have in-person meetings on a regular basis and have attendees feel comfortable to attend as well.”

“We started with virtual weekly programs to have members just check in and make sure everyone was doing OK,” he says. “We had two different weekly virtual programs, one topic-related conversations within our industry and the other being more ‘happy hours’ to network and connect with others as we all dealt with something new and unknown.”

York says direct communication with chapter members was also important, and past presidents were recruited to assist with this effort.

“They each took a section of our membership list and called and e-mailed all of our members to do a wellness check and to make sure we had their updated contact info,” he says. “We have continued to communicate with our members, letting them know we are here to help support them, posting job opportunities, conducting networking events (both virtually and in-person) and continuing with educational programming.”

York says he has been inspired and impressed by how MPI and the MPI Foundation have helped members retain their memberships and stay connected to the community during a trying time. And he’s especially inspired by fellow members and leaders of the Tampa Bay Area Chapter.

“Members have extended their leadership roles, with some joining the board to fill vacant roles and others joining committees for the first time,” he says. “When thanking one of these committee members for their great work, their response sums it all up and makes me proud to be an MPI member: ‘What else are we supposed to do other than step up and help when we can?’”



Blair Potter
Blair Potter

Blair Potter is managing editor for The Meeting Professional. He likes toys and collects cats (or is it the other way around?).