Florida Tourism Booming, USF Expands Program to Meet Demand

The School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of South Florida is expanding its curriculum to create more talent and meet growing industry demands.

“Tourism is the number one industry in Florida,” said Cihan Cobanoglu, dean of USF’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

He is growing rapidly.

“It’s the lifeline of the state,” Cobanoglu said.

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“It’s a critical economic driver for our state and here locally. The reason we don’t have income tax in Florida is because of our visitor economy,” said Santiago Corrada, President and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay.

The problem is that many companies can’t keep up.

“We must continue to develop our squad,” Corrada said. “The industry is currently experiencing a huge shortage.”

USF students will see new classes this fall as the school improves its curriculum to reflect the current industry.

Before classes had even started, USF had generated enormous interest.

“Our enrollment is up 100%,” Cobanoglu said.

It shows how necessary it is to get more people working in everything from restaurants to hotels to attractions to management and everything in between.

“As a public institution, we have an obligation to be able to meet the needs of our industry,” Cobanoglu said.

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“It’s an industry with a lot of skills that can appeal to a lot of different people,” Corrada said.

Experts said tourism is something that will always be part of Florida. The proof is that the industry was able to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“February 2020 we had the best February ever in Hillsborough County. Our occupancy rate was then over 87%. When you think about it, nine out of 10 hotel rooms were occupied,” Corrada said.

Then, in March 2020, the industry came to a screeching halt.

“We went from 87% occupancy to 50% occupancy and then April 2020, the worst month in our history with 23% occupancy,” Corrada said.

However, each month after April 2020, there has been an improvement.

“On April 21, a year later, we were back to breaking records,” Corrada said.

Experts believe the sky is the limit for Florida and Tampa Bay, with even greater growth potential.

“When you look here, Tampa, Clearwater, St. Pete, Sarasota, Bradenton, those are all gems that people are spending tons of money flying to these places,” Cobanoglu said.

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“We could hit $1 billion in taxable hotel revenue this year, so we’re a major destination,” Corrada said.

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