Clearwater Redefines Relationship Between City and Tourists

Interview with Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Kristina Alspaw

“Tourist season” is a phrase that, in Florida, means many things to many different people. To restaurants, hotels, shops along Clearwater Beach and other tourist-oriented attractions, it’s the time of year where business is done. To longtime locals, it’s the time of year where the roads are busier than normal and certain parts of town become off-limits.

In Clearwater, the Regional Chamber of Commerce is doing its best to change that relationship. The things that people plan trips down to Clearwater to see are hoping the longtime residents will come in and check out what has changed over the years. Likewise, the concept of people coming down to Clearwater during just a few months is also going away.

Kristina Alspaw from the Regional Chamber of Commerce was kind enough to sit down with News Talk Florida to discuss the changes. “It is busy year-round on Clearwater Beach and the greater Clearwater community as well, There used to be a really significant, strong, structured season with a ‘shoulder season’ on either side. Now we’re maybe seeing four slower weeks of the year.”

The weather is a contributing factor in the concept of a season starting to erode. Many people think of Florida in the summertime as unbearably hot, but on the Gulf coast temperatures are kept a little more reasonable by a breeze that also helps to keep humidity down compared to, say, Orlando.

Alspaw also suggests that “tourists” do not necessarily mean people from cold places. Florida is also a summer destination for Southerners and Latin Americans who don’t mind higher temperatures. What’s more, the summer months offer more affordable options for activities like golf. Greens fees drop considerably in the hotter months around Clearwater, offering people access in July and August to courses that might be a bit expensive for them in April.

There is still a slightly stronger time of the year for tourists in Clearwater: “Spring Break.” Every March and April, as schools take a week off to allow for vacations, people flock down to Florida to celebrate. In Clearwater, this doesn’t take the form of young adults partying all night long, but rather winter-weary families just taking a few days to re-introduce themselves to the concept of sunlight.

“Several, several awards this year won in that category (family friendliness),” says Alspaw. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium, on the strength of the Dolphin Tale movies, is a headliner for families looking to come down, but the community itself has opened up more to families in recent years.

Perhaps attractions are, to most, little more than window dressing. The beaches continue to be the headliner, with Clearwater Beach recently being recognized again as the best in the country by TripAdvisor for its sugar sands and picturesque sunsets.

“It’s funny, because as Floridians I think we’ve all gotten a little spoiled with the temperatures.” What might be considered a bit chilly for swimming to a local might be ideal temperatures for a dip in the Gulf for somebody from New England.

“What’s nice about the beach, too, I think there’s different personalities to different sections of the beach. Further into North Beach and Sand Key you’ve got those quieter, more calm and relaxing beaches, and then you’ve got all kinds of activity right around the Pier 60 Park area.” Combine that with nightlife along the beach and the aforementioned family destinations, and Clearwater offers a wide range of options for the tourist looking for a warm Spring Break.

Anywhere that attracts tourists, there is something strange that happens among the locals. The longer one lives in a place like that, the less they want to go and see the attractions. Think of the New Yorker who would only visit the Statue of Liberty to show friends from out of town. The same is true in Florida, where in many places the residents keep their own “best kept secret” type places and avoid the ones that attract the most tourism.

In Clearwater, the Regional Chamber of Commerce is making a concerted effort to change that. “A lot of the work that we’re doing with the Clearwater Regional Chamber is trying to further develop that appreciation between the local residents and the visitors that are coming. There are a lot of amenities and access that our residents get to enjoy as a result of the impact of tourism, and so rather than get frustrated during the busy times, we’re hoping to encourage our residents to really get out and enjoy all of those amenities in those warmer summer months.” Kristina Alspaw also suggests in particular the Sugar Sand Festival. The festival wrapped up recently, but every year it adds more and more artists and those artists are of an increasingly high caliber. The increased traffic might require patience, but Floridians aren’t known for being in a rush very often.

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