Sports and Nature Boost Tallahassee to a Banner Year For Tourism
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When Tallahassee takes a swing at attracting tourism to the state capital, the stats start out looking pretty dismal.
Strike One: Florida has nearly 2,000 miles of coastline, but nary an inch of it can be found in landlocked Tallahassee or Leon County.
Strike Two: It takes four hours to get to the nearest theme park. Ditto for major urban areas. And mountains? Fuggedaboutit.
“We don’t have a beach, we don’t have a theme park … we face these challenges every day, and also the perception that we’re not a destination unless you’re here for the Legislature or football,” said Lee Daniel, director of the Leon County Division of Tourism Development, more commonly known as Visit Tallahassee.
Daunting limitations, when one considers Florida’s more typical charms, but there’s no striking out for the capital city. In fact, local tourism officials have taken advantage of Tallahassee’s sweet spot and hit a home run, announcing six consecutive years of tourism growth — including a third consecutive record year in 2014 — and an annual economic impact that’s closing in on a billion-dollar industry.
“No place else in Florida looks like we do,” Daniel continued. “We’ve got world-class nature-based opportunities, we have terrific history and heritage, we’ve got visual and performing arts, our culinary scene is improving, we’ve got shopping. We’ve got lots of things people are looking for in a destination — we’ve just got to make them aware that we have it. We have a lot going for us. Our challenge is to continue to build awareness for Tallahassee being considered as a true leisure destination.”
On Oct. 1, Visit Florida officials announced impressive numbers during a marketing event that looked back on its accomplishments for the 2014-15 fiscal year and rolled out promotional plans for 2015-16.
Tallahassee and Leon County boasted more than 2.4 million visitors from 47 states and 36 countries, generating an economic impact of $963 million. Tourism accounts for 11,140 local jobs.
Tourism promotion is fully funded by a 5 percent bed tax on hotels, motels and other short-term lodging facilities. During the past year, collections topped $5 million for the first time ever. Hotel occupancy was up by 2.6 percent and included a record month in March, when occupancy was 73 percent (the year-round average is 65 percent).
Even though hotel room nights are how the county’s tourism department pays for itself, “heads in beds” isn’t their only concern.
“We know if there are so many heads in beds we know there are so many butts in restaurant seats, we know there are so many people shopping in stores, we know there are so many people buying gas and everything else that goes with it,” said Brian Hickey, Visit Tallahassee’s director of sports. “That moniker is just a measurement for us, it’s not the only thing we are looking at.”
Plans to maximize expenditures during a visitor’s stay include a new, location-based marketing technology. When guests arrive at hotels and attractions, banner ads will appear on their smart phones and other electronic devices, offering suggestions for nearby dining entertainment and attractions. They’ll also be given a business-sized card suggesting a visit to the visittallahassee.com website.