Tourism Today

Tourism is the biggest industry in the State of Florida making it vital to the State's economy. By 2015, tourism accounted for 12.1% of all employment in Florida. In 2015, Pinellas County reported 6.2 million overnight visitors and close to $10 billion in economic impact as a result of tourism.

This massive industry piqued our interest and led us to investigating the question of: how has an influx in tourism led to a change in the development of businesses on the Gulf Beaches?

The economy rises and falls like the waves along the coast. With these variations come different trends in patrons' needs and desires, some people come to the Gulf Beaches seeking a quiet getaway and others are looking for a self-contained resort. In order to get a better sense of these different destinations and the differences between big and small businesses we chose to collect oral histories from Brian McLaughlin of The Sunset Beach Cottages and Jessica Leonard of The TradeWinds Island Resort.

The sunset beach cottages

The Sunset Beach Cottages are a privately owned mom and pop beach resort. The McLaughlins, a couple who relocated from Missouri to find warmer weather, fell in love with the location and decided to live on property and maintain the cottages themselves. There are 5 cottages on property, one of which houses the couple who bought the property.

judge me by my size, do you?

This is the oral history of the Sunset Beach Cottages given by Brian McLaughlin, the owner of the cottages. He purchased this property in 2014 and thus began his own story with vacation rental homes.

Don't let the small stature of the property deceive you. Through meticulous maintenance, immediate customer assistance and a desirable, quiet destination for annual visitors; the Sunset Beach Cottages rank among the best of on the Gulf Beaches. Brian prides himself on the power of word-of-mouth from his days as a painter and as a result has created a service that is fully-booked and backlogged between January and June. The Cottages have remained relatively the same since Brian acquired them due to the lack of space for expansion.

Though Brian and his wife only acquired the property in 2014, the cottages have been used as a resort since 2008. The cottages were originally used as military barracks at Fort DeSoto and were moved to their current location after World War II. Like other areas throughout the country, Pinellas County saw a post-war boom. Through the early 1950s, service and retail trade continued to dominate the County’s economy; the largest numerical gains in employment during the decade from 1950 to 1960 were made in the service and retail sectors.

The Veterans’ Emergency Housing Program starting in 1946 led to over 2.5 million new suburban homes built throughout the country. These cottages and many homes along the Gulf Beaches are a prime example of that; they were used as personal homes until 2008, until they were bought out and converted into a resort.

Business has remained consistent but rising flood insurance costs and threats of buyouts by big-businesses has placed a lot of pressure on small businesses such as this one. Brian mentioned that as you drive down Gulf Blvd you don't see many small shops or hotels anymore. He is worried that if the trend continues he will be forced to sell and relocate. However, finances aside he believes that the biggest loss would be in the culture and feel of old-timey Florida. He dreads the day that the beautiful beachfront view is polluted with high-rise condominiums and hotels.

This is a view of the front porch of one of the cottages on the property. All the cottages feel and look like home. The 'mom and pop' that run the cottages do their best to decorate for the seasons and greet each guest every time they are seen.

The Sunset Beach Cottages are a two minute walk from the beach. The view is pictured above. This beautiful view belies issues with living near the beach, flood insurance. As prices rise, many small businesses struggle to meet the costs that come with maintaining beach front properties.

The Sunset Beach Cottages surround a common area pictured above. There are lawn chairs, tables, a grill, and a bar table with stools.

The tradewinds Island Resort

The TradeWinds Island Resort is an all inclusive beach resort. This resort is home to hundreds of rooms and is currently in the process of building another tower. This new project for the hotel will offer around 200 new rooms. The resort property itself is over 20 acres of beachfront access.

Bigger and better?

This is the oral history of the TradeWinds Island Resort given by Jessica Leonard. She is the Internal Communications and Training Coordinator for the TradeWinds. She has written her own story in the time she has been at the resort and has fallen in love with everything the TradeWinds stands for.

The TradeWinds Island Resort, was built in 1986 on Gulf Boulevard in St. Pete Beach, is the largest hotel in Pinellas County, with 796 rooms and 71,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The TradeWinds has for many years been making deals with the community to grow and execute lofty expansion plans successfully. The TradeWinds is full service meaning everything a guest may need or want is located on-site. Even if something is not readily available, guest services will do all it can to take care of the guest.

Since it's founding the TradeWinds has stuck to its family roots and ensures that the resort maintains a guest-first approach. Everywhere on site you are greeted with a smile by enthusiastic and caring employees. Each employee, from housekeeping all the way up to the CEO, has the knowledge and skills to make empowered decisions with their $500 'guest budget' to immediately right any wrongs a guest may be experiencing. This positive attitude has led to staggering growth and a steadily increasing flow of customers.

The TradeWinds works closely with groups in the community such as Habitat for Humanity and Tampa Bay Watch to give back. A big aspect of their mission and values is to be a positive influence on the Gulf Beaches. Since their partnership, the resort has personally funded several 'Habitats' and donated its time to building countless others.

Tennis Courts

There are two full sized tennis courts on property for guests to use. The TradeWinds does a good job of making sure a large resort feels inclusive and approachable. There are employees everywhere so you, as guest, never feel lost.

Paddle Boats

There is a "river" around the entire property for guests to paddle boat in. There are also birds and bird feeders along the river for guests to experience.