|By Steve Huettel, St. Petersburg Times,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sep. 10, 2009--Pinellas County's struggling tourism business showed signs of bottoming out this summer.
A report released Wednesday showed the number of overnight visitors rose 1.1 percent to 572,000 in July from a year earlier, marking the first year-to-year monthly increase since March 2008.
In another sign of recovery, collections of the county's 5 percent lodging tax in July was off just 1.1 percent. The tax reflects revenues at hotels, motels, campgrounds and rented condos.
"It's still a very difficult market," said Walter Klages of Research Data Services, which tracks tourism statistics for the county. "But we're definitely now at the bottom."
He told members of the county's Tourist Development Council that a full-fledged recovery for hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses was a year away.
More trips by visitors from Florida cities and the Southeast drove up the July numbers. Tampa Bay, Orlando, Atlanta and Jacksonville were among the top 10 feeder markets.
For the first seven months of 2009, Pinellas attracted nearly 3.38 million visitors. That was down 5.4 percent, or more than 190,000, from last year.
Hotels catering to meetings by businesses and associations have been hit harder than those targeting tourists. Meeting planners largely sat out booking for next year and are focusing on 2011, said Tim Boggott, a principal in the TradeWinds Island Resorts in St. Pete Beach.
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