Okaloosa TDD searching for wealthier travelers with trip overseas

Okaloosa TDD searching for wealthier travelers with trip overseas

The Okaloosa County Commission recently approved sending the county’s top tourism official to a travel trade show in London in hopes of attracting high-spending Brits to the Emerald Coast.

The networking trip is in line with the county’s goal of luring not more tourists, but visitors who spend more money.

The commission unanimously agreed Aug. 7 to spend $14,900 in county Tourist Development Department funds to have TDD Director Jennifer Adams and Digital Marketing Strategist Kerry Sutsko attend the World Travel Market in London from Nov. 5-7.

Adams, who was hired as the new TDD director last September, prefers the department be referred to as the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“The CVB would benefit from attending (the travel trade show) because the English-speaking international visitor aligns with our future brand and strategy,” Adams wrote in her recent agenda request to the commission.

She said the bureau would partner with Visit Florida and Visit Pensacola for a larger presence at the show.

“Currently, we have no solid footprint in any international market, and aligning with Visit Florida, which does, is an appropriate and cost-effective point of entry,” Adams said in her written request. “Along with exhibiting, we will take part in all media events during the show.”

In fiscal 2019, the county anticipates collecting $20.5 million in bed tax revenue, which would match the total projected for this budget year.

Adams told the commission that one of the CVB’s goals is to increase bed tax revenue by 10 percent during the September to May time frame.

Like commissioners and county Tourist Development Council members, Adams often has publicly said the county needs to attract higher-spending visitors — many of whom come from foreign countries — rather than simply more tourists.

A market research report compiled for the county found that 1,890 visitors from foreign countries visited Okaloosa during the first quarter (October-December) of fiscal 2018. That total was less than 1 percent of the 209,900 overall number of visitors during that time frame.

According to CVB data, most of the foreign visitors are from Canada.

The market research report showed that almost half of the county’s overall number of visitors in the first quarter of fiscal ‘18 came from the Southeast, while almost a quarter came from states in the Midwest. Overall, most of the visitors were 35 years old or younger and had a household income of $75,000 or less.

County officials want to see bigger spenders.

At the commission’s July 30 budget workshop, Commissioner and TDC member Kelly Windes spoke about the need to “get the quality of our clientele back up” to where it was before the 2010 BP oil spill, and before many businesses discounted their rates to lure visitors.

Adams said at the workshop that the CVB’s vision is “to elevate our destination from a commodity brand, which is based on price, to a luxury brand, which is based on emotional connection and will ultimately position Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island as a premier family destination within the United States: not Florida, not the Southeast, but the United States. We’re gonna go big or we’re going to go home.”

That vision also was referred to at the Aug. 7 meeting.

Commissioner Nathan Boyles said that before Adams was hired, he “steadfastly opposed” foreign travel by TDD members, such as “frivolous” Emerald Coast Film Commission trips to Canada.

But now, the county needs to focus on attracting visitors from the UK and other foreign markets who “come with a lot of money” and travel on airplanes, Boyles said.

Commission Chairman Graham Fountain said he noticed a lot of folks from the UK during his visits to places such as Miami Beach and Disney World.

Those tourists “do eat in expensive restaurants and they do spend a lot of money, so I think this is (funding for the CVB trip to London) is probably well-spent,” Fountain said.

Adams agreed with county Comptroller J.D. Peacock’s request for her to provide a post-trip return-on-investment report.