Paying the Bills Smarter
Life in St. Petersburg is sustained by a diverse economy. Employers range from online shopping giant HSN to the more obscure Dairy-Mix, which turns milk from Florida cows into the soft-serve ice cream sold at Florida McDonald's.
Stroll along Beach Drive near downtown’s waterfront, and it’s clear that tourism remains one of the city’s primary economic engines. Today you will see a wide range of ages and likely overhear a variety of languages spoken as more families and international visitors are discovering the city’s charm.
The same wealth of activities and sunny weather that appeal to residents also attract tourists. Many residents, in fact, first discovered St. Petersburg while on vacation, and vacationers help keep the economy in the Burg thriving. Tourism is the county’s largest employment sector.
More than 15 million people visited Pinellas County in 2017, the most ever recorded. The county’s bed tax revenue — one measure of tourism’s impact — has grown dramatically in the past 10 years from about $20 million in 2007 to $55 million in 2017. David Downing, CEO of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, says people who visit the county typically visit St. Petersburg. In fact, St. Petersburg has become the premier travel destination in the Tampa Bay area and on the Gulf Coast, he says.
“To Americans, St. Petersburg seems very European, and to Europeans it seems very American,” Downing says. “Most people find what they are looking for when they come because there is so much here.”
The city’s museums are big tourism draws. The Dali museum alone attracts 400,000 visitors annually. Dozens of events in St. Petersburg also bring tens of thousands of visitors in a single weekend. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg draws close to 100,000 each year. The Tampa Bay Rowdies and Tampa Bay Rays regularly draw sports fans from around the Tampa Bay region and beyond to downtown.
Foodies, craft beer aficionados and music lovers also find something to love in St. Petersburg. It’s become an overnight tourism destination, not just a day-trip during a beach vacation. New hotels from small trendy boutique ones to a towering chain have opened to accommodate more visitors.
The city has 78 hotels and motels with more than 4,500 rooms combined. Notably in 2017, the Hyatt Place hotel opened with 175 rooms across the street from the upcoming James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art.