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ORLANDO-Tampa’s estimated 90,000 hotel and motel rooms are bouncing back from 9-11-01 with the 66% average June occupancy only 6.6% down from the 2001 mark, Ernst & Young says in its mid-year hospitality industry report.

In January of this year, Tampa’s occupancy was off by 12.2%. Special promotional packages by various civic and commercial groups are fueling the rebound, says the study which uses statistics from Smith Travel Research of Hendersonville, TN as a basis for its observations.

“Tampa, without a glut of new supply to contend with, is recovering faster than other Florida markets and is closing the gap on Orlando,” Mark Lunt, E&Y’s Southeast/Caribbean Hospitality Practice Leader, says in a prepared statement.

The Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau is leading the way with various marketing strategies.

Among them: Innovative vacation packages that allow visitors to mix and match attractions from a list that includes the Florida Aquarium, Busch Gardens, Ybor City, the State Museum, lodging at one of 12 area hotels and a discount card for the one-year-old, 1.26 million-sf, 200-store International Plaza shopping center.

Scotia Prince plans to launch a new ferry service in November, sailing twice a week from Tampa to Cancun and Puerto Progresso. The goal: Attracting more Mexican visitors to Tampa which is 80 miles west of Downtown Orlando.

The West Shore lodging market, meanwhile, is preparing to receive its first new class A hotel property in several years when Orlando-based CNL Finance Group Inc. breaks ground on the 300-room Renaissance Hotel in first quarter 2003. Completion is anticipated by first quarter 2004.

The hotel, with an estimated hard construction cost of $45 million ($150,000 per room), is CNL’s first venture in the Tampa Bay area and will located at the International Plaza shopping center, a mile from Tampa International Airport at Westshore and Boy Scout Boulevards.

The under-construction, 250-room Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Resort is expected to be a major tourism magnet and hotel draw. The property is on the Seminole Indian Nation reservation, off Exit 5 on Interstate 4. The attraction will have 10 restaurants, 90,000 sf of gaming space, 1,500 slot machines and 50 gaming tables.

Ernst & Young expects the Tampa hotel market to finish this year with occupancy in the lower 60s and an average daily room rate in the lower $80s. “Full market recovery is likely to occur in early 2004,” the report projects.

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