UF study shows why Tampa sees itself as top destination for girlfriend getaways

Not since Thelma and Louise drove their Thunderbird across the desert and over the edge of the Grand Canyon has the idea of “Girlfriend Getaways” been as enthusiastically embraced as now. 

Hollywood’s 1991 version of girls gone wild has given way to tamer female bonding experiences. The core of Girlfriend Getaways remains the temporary reprieve from mundane work and home duties and the opportunity to spend quality time with friends and family.

Blowing up trucks and robbing stores has been replaced with food, fun, and relaxation; a very appealing concept for today’s multi-tasking working women. So appealing that the Girlfriend Getaway market has become a $6 billion dollar industry. Unlock Tampa Bay Visitor Center
That number emerged through a study conducted in 2018 by Dr. Heather Gibson for the University of Florida Health and Human Performance College, Eric Friedheim Tourism Institute. In Gibson’s study, “Girlfriend Getaways,” GGA’s for short, a term created by the media a decade ago, is defined as “all female leisure-travel groups consisting of female friends, relatives, colleagues, members of sports teams, or other female acquaintances.”
When women were asked what motivates them to organize a GGA, the answers ranged from quality time with friends and relatives to a need for downtime to support for a friend in a time of need. Think Sex and the City characters flying off to Mexico after Carrie is jilted at the altar.

Also ranked high on the list is attending special events such as the NCAA Women’s Final Four Basketball Tournament being held at Tampa’s Amalie Arena April 5-7 along with the related National Association of Sports Commissions Women’s Summit April 3-5 at Crown Plaza Tampa-Westshore. Tickets for the games start at $75 and can be purchased online. For girlfriends looking for an upscale experience, VIP suites are available by contacting Suite Services. And check out the ultimate NCAA Experience, which includes food, beverages, entertainment, and access to coaches and players. 

The University of Florida study not only reveals motivation, as in why women want to get away, it also provides an impressive headcount: 24 percent of U.S. women took a Girlfriend Getaway between 2013 and 2015, and 39 percent plan on taking one in the future. When Gibson presented the results of her study at Visit Tampa Bay’s 4th Annual Marketing Summit in December 2018, the tourism and hospitality industry took notice.

Turning visitors into residents
Santiago Corrada, President and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, sees tourism as the red carpet inviting people to discover all the region has to offer.

“Visitors can become your residents. They come here, have a wonderful time, and realize it’s a safe, clean, friendly place to live. The economic development around tourism means jobs and an improved quality of life. In the next three years, we’ll be adding 2,000 hotel rooms. The fact that luxury brand JW Marriott and our first five-star property, EDITION, are building here shows we are seeing the fruits of our labor.”
According to Professor Gibson’s study, the amenities that women are looking for when planning a Girlfriend Getaway can best be described as clean, bright, stylish, and modern. GGA appropriate spaces? Spas, beauty salons, and fun gathering places. An online description of Tampa's EDITION hotel, which is expected to be finished in 2021, says it will include a rooftop pool with an adjacent bar and restaurant, top-of-the-line spa and fitness center, a second high-end restaurant on the ground floor and upscale retail spaces. The hotel is being built as part of Water Street Tampa, at the northwest corner of Water Street and Channelside Drive.

The entrance to Epicurean TheatreAmong Tampa Bay’s many GGA options currently available is the Epicurean in South Tampa with its boutique hotel appeal and reputation as a destination for foodies and wine lovers. Upon arrival, Epicurean guests are offered a complimentary glass of wine, which they can enjoy at the newly expanded Lobby Bar opening onto an elegant patio.

Kevin Scott, Epicurean’s General Manager, says, “We offer all the things Girlfriend Getaway groups are looking for. …food, wine, arts, culture, comfort.” Activities at the hotel's Epicurean Theater feature a regular “menu” of events, including a History of Scotch tasting, and a GGA favorite, Cupcakes and Cocktails, at which participants make their own cupcakes and pair them with an appropriate libation.
After all that indulgence, Epicurean’s recently renovated Spa Evangeline  offers such delights as a Divine Oil massage or a Dulce Delight mani/pedi.

The Epicurean’s relationship with and proximity to the world-famous Bern’s Steak House provides even more opportunities for a special experience.

“Our guests often walk across the street to dine at Bern’s and then come back to enjoy a nightcap under the stars at our rooftop lounge,'' says Scott.
A recent Girlfriend Getaway group, Scott says, stood out because they enjoyed so many of the local offerings and loved the hotel. The four women met in college over 20 years ago and every year since graduation have chosen a different city around the country for a GGA. They flew and drove in from Charlotte, Detroit, Salt Lake City, and Miami. Scott recounts that one day they spent in the spa followed by dinner at Bern’s. The next day they went to St. Pete Beach, and the third day the group took the Epicurean’s Cruiser bikes through Hyde Park, did a little shopping, then headed up Bay Shore Boulevard to enjoy the bay breeze and the view.
Scott says he encourages guests to explore all that Tampa Bay has to offer because it’s to everyone’s benefit to create a complete experience. He likens Tampa and its burgeoning foodie scene to a progressive dinner at which each course would be served at a different home. Now you can take a complete culinary tour from handcrafted cocktails under the sky at Bulla Gastrobar’s Luna Lounge to dessert at Ulele where you can revel in their famous candied maple duck bacon fried ice cream, voted one of Tampa’s best desserts. End your tour with a relaxing stroll on the beautiful Tampa Riverwalk.

Lots of choices for stay-cations too 

Mike Falconer, Director of Sales and Marketing at Le Meridien, a 130-room, luxury boutique hotel located in the former Federal Courthouse in downtown Tampa, says they primarily cater to business travelers. But on weekends, they try to attract leisure guests -- those attending weddings, family reunions, or social events. He says, “We welcome the opportunity to accommodate Girlfriend Getaways.”
Falconer says he believes that a big draw for Girlfriend Getaways will be the development of Water Street Tampa, a $3 billion Kayaking the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa dollar investment to the downtown waterfront between the Florida Aquarium and the Tampa Convention Center.

The newest portion to open, Sparkman Wharf, now features Fermented Reality Beirgarten, an open-air craft brew lounge area, repurposed shipping containers serving food from some of Tampa's culinary favorites, and outdoor lawn activities. Eventually, the Wharf will include new office spaces, restaurants, and shops. Sparkman Wharf is being developed by Strategic Property Partners, a partnership between Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment and Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

“The Girlfriend Getaway market will likely grow considerably after 2021 when this project is complete,” says Falconer.

A generational shift 
Gibson believes her study shows an important generational shift.

“Women who are now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s felt obligated to their home and family duties. When interviewed they often say, ‘I wish I could have done that.’ Women today in their 20s, 30s, and 40s feel entitled to time for themselves.”

Gibson also points out that society is so much more mobile and connected -- friends we grew up with, went to school with, likely are scattered around the country but still in touch. She concludes, “Women value their friendships, many of which last a lifetime. Girlfriend Getaways provide the opportunity to nurture those friendships in a fun, relaxing environment.”
Visit the Tampa Downtown Partnership website to learn more about live, work, play, and stay opportunities.
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Read more articles by Pamela Varkony.

Pamela Varkony’s non-fiction topics range from politics to economic development to women's empowerment. A feature writer and former columnist for Tribune Publishing, Pamela's work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, and in PBS and NPR on-air commentaries. Her poetry has been published in the New York Times. Recognized by the Pennsylvania Women's Press Association with an "Excellence in Journalism" award, Pamela often uses her writing to advocate for women's rights and empowerment both at home and abroad. She has twice traveled to Afghanistan on fact-finding missions. Pamela was named the 2017 Pearl S. Buck International Woman of Influence for her humanitarian work. Born and raised in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Pamela often weaves the lessons learned on those backcountry roads throughout her stories.