Last Thursday, SRQ MEDIA’s SB2: GOOD PEOPLE The Tourism Economy breakfast symposium shed light on the current state of tourism regionally and state-wide as marketing budget cuts loom on the horizon.
After opening remarks by series sponsor Jeff Mayers of The Resort at Longboat Key Club, John Horne of the Anna Maria Oyster Bar introduced keynote speaker Alfredo Gonzalez, Vice President of International Sales and Market Development at VISIT FLORIDA to the crowd sharing a tongue and cheek story of Alfredo’s college days working at Bennigan’s. “Alfredo and I actually go way back. You see he spent is college years as a server at Bennigan’s and I think most of us can confidently state that we have dined there at least once. Bennigan’s is now closed. Alfredo I am looking at you,” Horne joked.
Gonzalez began his presentation by addressing the elephant in the room; VISIT FLORIDA’s impending budget cut by the state government. He stated, budget cuts will make it more difficult to reach out to potential tourists around the world, but the state’s de facto tourism bureau will maintain strong partnerships overseas and domestically to ensure destinations in the Sunshine State won’t be overlooked. “Last year we had a $75 million budget,” Gonzalez said. “If things don’t go well over the next couple days, that $74 million will drop to about $25 million. That will make things very difficult for us, but nothing is over. In 2010 we had $31 million and we still broke records.”
The Florida Legislature, which just concluded its regular session earlier this month, budgeted just $25 million for VISIT FLORIDA after Governor Rick Scott requested $100 million. Gonzalez noted a new budget won’t go into effect until July, and, so far, Florida has seen tremendous visitation, with about 30.2 million visitors recorded coming into the state in the first quarter of 2017.
Gonzalez ended his presentation with a kudos to the Gulfcoast region and our commitment to creating a quality visitor experience. “I would like to congratulate you more than anything else. This destination almost behaves like its not in Florida; you’re so unique in what you have. Keep doing it because we are going to need the help this year. Utilize your uniqueness, utilize your amazing ability to satisfy people’s needs and I tell you regardless of how much money you have or we have—I know if you have this type of product and this type of commitment, there will be no problems. We will see dips, but we will not see chaos.”
Between bites, guests picked up thought provoking insight from some of our region’s powerhouse tourism organizations: Jeff Mayers of The Resort at Longboat Key Club, Rick Piccolo of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, and Elliot Falcione of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Panelists spoke on the impact of budget cuts but also how this shortfall can be made up in the region.
“First of all, from a marketing perspective we need to be able to embrace the changes in technology and use the proper vehicles for our messaging. Secondly, I believe we need to be increasingly relevant. Its important that our voice is heard, for people see who we are and continue to come to Sarasota as it is a great destination. Finally, we have such great bones here as far as the beaches. Those of us who live here know the arts and culture and restaurants and community. These great surroundings will never change as long as we don’t lose sight of who we are,” said Jeff Mayers, General Manager of The Resort at Longboat Key Club.
Elliot Falcione, Executive Director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, noted how local marketing efforts have worked to complement exactly what visitors expect in the region as a destination, which is an improvement over past years when surveys showed most couldn’t place Anna Maria relative to Tampa, Sanibel or Boca Grande. “Our brand is now penetrating against competitors really well, and that’s with the second smallest budget on the West Coast of Florida aside from Port Charlotte,” says Falcione.
“From the airport perspective, our infrastructure is in excellent shape,”Rick Piccolo, President and CEO of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, said setting the area apart from built-out destinations like Miami and Orlando. “This is a boutique community, and I look at the airport as a boutique airport. I tell people we are Whole Foods to Tampa’s Publix and Punta Gorda’s Save-A-Lot.”
In addition to SB2 regulars, SRQ MEDIA hosted students from Booker Middle and Booker High School, eager to gain some insight on the hospitality industry. Elliott Falcione, addressed the next workforce generation, by stating: “The best thing you can do moving forward is continue to polish your people skills. Where I have been successful is relationship building, communicating and knowing the resources that I have available to get things done. We see so many students coming out of college that do not have those personality traits that really integrate with our industry.”
We couldn’t have learned the incredible things from this engaging discussion without our series sponsors: CS&L CPAs, The Resort at Longboat Key Club, Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and SB2 GOOD PEOPLE keynote sponsor: Anna Maria Oyster Bar. Thank you for supporting the SB2 series, but most importantly, thank you for the ways you give back and help people in our community each and every day. Your example inspires us.
Click here to read the article about SB2: GOOD PEOPLE in SRQ DAILY. A gallery of images from SB2: GOOD PEOPLE: The Tourism Economy is available online. The 2016-2017 SB2 season will conclude on Thursday, July 20 with SB2 GOOD HAND: Building Capacity In Our Independent Sector featuring Keynote Speaker David infrastructure, President & CEO of the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation. To purchase tickets, visit SRQSB2.com.