Ybor City, Florida: A Rich History And A Wealth Of Hospitality

Ybor City, Florida: A Rich History And A Wealth Of Hospitality – travel industry

Erin E. White

Ybor City in Tampa, Florida is called “the Cigar Capital of the World.” However, this city has much more to offer than a good cigar. Rich culture and urban renewal give this sunny city a character all its own. The city’s past is surely a part of the present. Ybor City is a National Historic Landmark District, one of only three in Florida.

In 1857, in an attempt to raise revenue, the United States put a high tariff on Cuban cigars. To escape the costs of paying the tariff, some Cuban cigar factory owners relocated their factories to Florida, New York, and other parts of the United States.

Don Vicente Martinez Ybor came to a sandy, palmetto-covered frontier two miles northeast of Tampa, Florida in the year 1885 and obtained 40 acres of land. According to Sheryl Shiver (2001), owner of a local bed and breakfast, Don Vicente Martinez Ybor began developing a company town “with the hope of providing a good living and working environment so that cigar workers would have fewer grievances against owners.” This area is now known as Ybor City.

Cuban immigrants flocked to Ybor’s company town. The immigrants brought their craft and their culture, and made Ybor City the “Cigar Capital of the World.” The city developed as a multiethnic community, where English was a second language. In 1898, Ybor City became a support center for the Cuban Revolution. The Army stationed thousands of men in Ybor City, including Teddy Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders.”

In 1910, Don Vicente Martinez Ybor passed away. It appeared he had taken Ybor City’s finest days along with him. With the combination of the Depression, increasing automation, and the boom in the popularity of cigarettes, Ybor City was soon left vacant, a shell of it’s former self.

During the past two decades, a number of civic organizations and private investors have banded together to preserve what remains of the city’s historic buildings and ethnic heritage. An influx of investment capital has spurred the rehabilitation of old buildings. This transformation of Ybor City is directly related to its rich and vibrant past.

Ybor City: The Present

Ybor is a colorful section of Tampa, Florida. It is a place full of history. The streets are paved in brick and the wrought-iron lampposts speak of an era gone-by. There is a mixture of Mediterranean and classic architecture with great attention to detail. Quite Simply – It is a place in time.

Ybor City is a National Historic Landmark District — one of only three in Florida. Ybor City’s past is still very much a part of the present (St. Petersburg Times, 1999).

History and the Tourism Trend

American’s interest in traveling to historic sites (such as Ybor City) has increased and is expected to continue (Kerstetter, Confer, and Graefe, 2001). The recent popularity in television programs addressing history, heritage, and culture on networks such as the Discovery Channel[C] and Travel Channel[C] attest to this trend. Nostalgia is back in fashion.

Many towns have adapted this trend towards history-based tourism and have used it to regenerate the local economy. This type of tourism attracts a traveler that generally tends to stay longer, spend more money per trip, be more highly educated, and have a higher average income than the general traveler (Travel Industry Association, 2001).

History and Sustainable Tourism

For many people, the information they encounter while at leisure — such as travel — may offer the only opportunity to learn about their bonds to their history or culture (Moscardo, 1999). This type of experience is an educational process, and plays a direct part in sustainable tourism. Sustainable tourism strives to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to enjoy the resource. According to Moscardo (1999), it is based on three core principles: Quality, Continuity, and Balance. Many historic cities and attractions can benefit from adapting the principles of sustainable tourism.

Quality is approached on several levels in sustainable tourism. A quality experience for the visitor, the improvement of the quality of life for the host community, and the protection of the quality of the environment are of highest importance.

Continuing the indigenous culture of the host community and encouraging the local customs and traditions are central. This attention to history — to the roots of the culture — can connect the city to the past, and also provide a fuller experience for the visitor. Additionally, it helps in sustaining a healthy relationship among tourists and the community. The continuity of visitor interest is paramount, so that they will want to return to the host community in the future and generate a concern for the health and well being of the community. The continuity of the resource is also a key component of sustainable tourism. This would involve the preservation and conservation of the city and buildings within it.

Balance is the final core principal of sustainable tourism. The needs of the host community, the guests, and the environment should remain balanced while providing an enjoyable travel experience for the visitor.

Education is an important component of successful sustainable tourism. Oftentimes, good communication and interpretation can enhance the quality of the experience for the traveler and encourage them to come back. A well-informed and experienced tour operator can make an impression on visitors. Making visitors mindful is always a goal of sustainable tourism (Moscardo, 1990).

Sustainable Tourism and Bed and Breakfasts

More buildings are renovated and preserved by bed-and-breakfast/country inn owners than any other funding in the nation (Kelley & Marquette, 1996). In particular, it is clear that these funds have continued the use of a viable resource. These buildings are not only rescued from destruction, but are preserved as a voice for the history of a community. Old photos, books, antique furniture, and memorabilia and artifacts from the past can be featured in their original environment. This gives the tourist a chance to relive history and revisit the past. Bed and breakfasts are truly an example of sustainable tourism in action.

The bed-and-breakfast business experienced an enormous growth in the United States in the late 1970s. Many of today’s travelers find B&Bs located in downtown sites as well as the countryside (Kelley and Marquette, 1996). Guests to bed and breakfasts spent a total of $5.5 billion in 1998 in small towns, rural communities, and tourist destinations, placing the economic impact on the local community The economic benefits of sustainable tourism are invaluable when considering the preservation of the past. The income directly paid by guests to the inns was $2 billion, with the remainder of the $5.5 billion going to the local community (PAII Research, 1998). Most of this money is spent on the local communities to buy goods and pay for services needed to run the inns. This direct impact within the community makes the innkeeper a central part of a community. Sustainable tourism is exemplified — by improving the quality of life of the host community.

Oftentimes, innkeepers are educators. Again, B &Bs can often be the foundation of sustainability in a community. Innkeepers can educate through personal communication and literature, and through interpretation programs. It is this intimate travel experience which unites people to their history.

Bed-and-breakfasts have several classifications, ranging from a host home or home stay, to a boutique inn or small luxury hotel. These properties may have as many as 50 rooms, or as few as one room. In general, the larger the property, the more rapidly the property moves into the “hotel” perception in the mind of the traveler. According to PAII (1999), a B&B type property should provide:

1. Generous hospitality and personal attention to guests

2. Architecturally interesting or historic structure

3. Owner involvement in business

4. Clean and comfortable ambiance and surroundings

5. Individually decorated rooms

Ybor City, Sustainable Tourism, and Bed and Breakfasts

The target traveler for Ybor City has been described as a historically minded visitor of all ages. Ybor offers a unique and interesting blend of attractions — museums, tours (both guided and self), local cuisine, unparalleled nightlife, and luxurious accommodations. Seventh Avenue is lined with clubs, pubs, bars, shops, and restaurants. Ybor City offers limited places to stay, including a B&B type property that highlights the past, the culture, and the best of Ybor City.

The Case of Don Vicente De Ybor Historic Inn

Located across from Ybor Square, a 113-year-old building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a newly restored building — The Don Vicente De Ybor Historic Inn. What was once The Gonzales Clinic (from 1930 to 1981) is now a luxurious Historic Inn and a testament to the unique history of Ybor City.

If ever there was an example of the quintessential bed and breakfast, The Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn is it. The Inn is hospitable and personable. The Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn is family-owned and operated. Sheryl Shiver, the owner/innkeeper gives a private tour of the Inn, complete with fascinating anecdotes about the past. Each decision related to the Inn is made once Jack, Sheryl, and children Tessa and Damon agree upon it. It is certainly a family affair.

The Shiver family recently restored the Don Vicente from October 1998 to October of 2000. Two primary goals drove this restoration: attention to detail and authenticity. The restoration included maintaining the original staircase and original brick. The presence of the original staircase becomes the focal point of the property. The gold staircase was carefully preserved. This staircase once led to hospital beds and maternity rooms but now leads guests to their “sleeping rooms.”

All of the building materials used to renovate the building were bought locally, which was important to Shiver. This is one example of sustainable tourism in action. By purchasing materials locally, the Don Vicente improved the quality of life for those in the host community. Revenue was generated for the host community — before the doors to the Inn ever opened. The continuity of the resource was maintained throughout the renovation and all attempts were made to hold history within its walls.

Works of art adorn the walls, all of which have been painted by local artists. Even the handmade rolled cigars are made locally, at a factory off of 7th Avenue downtown. Once again, the Don Vicente is integrating the local community and peoples into the tourism operation. The ornate hanging chandeliers are originals rescued from the Belleview Biltmore — another historic home in the state of Florida. Every light fixture at the historic inn is different. Each one of the 16 rooms has a unique set of oriental rugs. Photos and remnants of the past are displayed throughout the building and in the rooms as a reminder of Ybor City’s rich culture. These special touches make the visit more meaningful to the guest and involve the visitor with Ybor City. Every attempt has been made by the Innkeepers to create a feeling of history.

Another indication of the Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn’s commitment to sustainable tourism is the fact that no smoking is permitted within the preserved rooms of the Inn (cigar smoking is permitted however, in the Martini Bar located downstairs). This policy is consistent with the philosophy that smoking would lead to degradation of the resource. It is perhaps another example of the Innkeepers strive to be sustainable.

The ambiance and surroundings of the Don Vicente are a breathtaking. The decor sets a mood of luxury, yet is still cozy. It gracefully embraces the present with the past. One competitive advantage of the Don Vicente is the rooms — the lush bedding and individual decor of each is just another reason this historic inn is a place to visit. Sheryl Shiver expressed the Inn is known for their comfortable beds!

Sustainable Tourism and The Future

In reference to sustainable tourism, Lane (1991) suggests, “The visitor will gain an in-depth understanding and knowledge of the area, its landscapes, and peoples. The tourist will become concerned, and therefore, protective of the host area.”

If this is truly the idea behind sustainable tourism, bed and breakfasts appear to be a viable vehicle through which to stimulate sustainable practices. Cities such as Ybor City represent small cogs in the machine of global sustainability. Interest in preserving history and in sustainable tourism practices can contribute to the overall well being of our universe.


Confer, J. and Kerstetter, D., (2000). “Past Perfect: Explorations of Heritage Tourism”, Parks and Recreation, Februrary, vol. 3 (2), pg. 28.

Kelley, C. L. & R. P. Marquette, (1996.) “A tax primer for Bed and Breakfasts.” Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 37 (4), 34.

Lane, (1991). Sustainable Tourism: A new concept for the interpreter. Interpretation Journal 49, 1-4.

Moscardo, G. (1999). “Making Visitors Mindful: Principles for Creating Sustainable Visitor Experiences Through Effective Communication”, Advances in Tourism Applications Series: Vol. 2. Sagamore Publishing: Champaign, Illinois.

National Park Service, “Parknet.” (2000). http: www.nps.gov. Retrieved April 25, 2001.

Professional Association of Innkeepers International (1998), “Annual Revenues, Expenses, and Income of Bed and Breakfasts Inns,” Retrieved May 1, 2001, from the World Wide Web: http://www.paii.org/library /features.

Shiver, Sheryl, (2001). Personal communication. April 1.

St. Petersburg Times, (1999) “Ybor City: A Place in Time.” Retrieved May 1, 2001 from the World Wide Web: http://www.ybortimes. com.

Travel Industry Association of America (2001) “Travel Statistics and Trends.” Retrieved April 1, 2001, from the World Wide Web: http://www.tia.org/travel/TravelTrends. asp.

Ybor City, Florida has a history rich in hospitality and you can read about it in Erin White and Lori Pennington-Gray’s account beginning on page 118. Erin White is a graduate’ student at the University of Florida, studying in the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism. She will receive her Masters in 2001. Her first degree is a Bachelor of Science in Advertising from the University of Florida. After a year of working in sales, she moved back to Gainesville for a little more learning! Erin hopes to work in the tourism industry, with a focus in marketing. Lori Pennington-Gray, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Recreation, Parks and Tourism Program at the University of Florida, where she teaches recreation and tourism marketing, commercial recreation and tourism development. She is an associate director for the Center for Tourism Development at the University of Florida, which involves her in many local and state projects. Lori’s main areas of interest are tourism and marketing.

COPYRIGHT 2001 National Recreation and Park Association

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