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New year, new ways to market county

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TDC swears in newest board member, talks about year ahead

By Abdon Sidibe

LECANTO — A new year means looking for new ways to put more heads in beds in Citrus County.
The Citrus County Tourism Development Council (TDC) met Wednesday morning at the Lecanto Government Building for its first meeting of 2012.

The meeting began with swearing in the TDC’s newest board member, Frank Peters. Peters is chairman of the Floral City Heritage Council.

County Commissioner Rebecca Bays, chairwoman of the TDC, exuberantly expressed her desire for 2012 to be the year tourism becomes the leader and economic driver for Citrus County.

“We want to bring people to the county,” she said. “There’s just so much we have here that we’re not marketing.”

County Attorney Richard Wesch gave a brief presentation on Florida’s Sunshine Law, which mainly focused on informing members of the importance of making sure public meetings are noticed, and not discussing any items that could come up before the board outside of the public meetings or “out of the sunshine.”

“It’s your risk if you violate the Sunshine Law,” Wesch warned the board.

Eric Williams with the Citrus County Office of GIS also gave a presentation to the board identifying the tourism-based assets in the county, such as lodging, restaurants, bike trails, golf courses and parks.

Although Williams said the information is not 100 percent complete, it is still a good snapshot of what is available to people who visit Citrus County.

The board also learned about Esri Community Analyst, a mapping solution with GIS capabilities that allows people to combine thousands of demographic, health, economic, education, and business data variables with reports and interactive color-coded maps to explore the characteristics of any area.
Williams said the goal is to mine the data better so the information can be of use when it comes to formulating advertising and marketing campaigns.

Rocky Hensley, a TDC board member, asked about possibly doing advertising in surrounding counties to encourage more people to do one-day trips to the county.

Marla Chancey, director of the Citrus County Visitors and Convention Bureau, said while the county works to bring in people from surrounding counties, it is proven that the further people travel, the more money they spend. Therefore, it is best practices to try to entice people further away from Citrus County to come to the area.

Chancey also spoke candidly about a recent trip she took to Flagler County. Flagler County, which has a similar demographic to Citrus County,  increased their tourism tax dollars from $600,000 to $1.2 million over a five-year period by collecting necessary data, building strong relationships within and outside the county and creating a strategic plan they stuck to, Chancey said.

Also looking at how Pasco County has increased its tourism tax revenue, Chancey expressed confidence Citrus County could be in the same boat.

“We’re looking at the best of the best and the one thing we have overlooked is research and strategic vision,’ she said.

Chancey then pitched two items she said would help move tourism in the right direction locally. The first item consisted of the board approving to pull $2,800 a year from the board’s reserves to receive STR reports. STR and STR Global track supply and demand data for the hotel industry and provide market share analysis for all major hotel chains and brands.

Chancey explained the information gathered would help see what trends exist among Citrus County’s visitors. The board unanimously approved the item.

In addition, to have concrete numbers on how many people visit Citrus County a year and to find out more about the reasons and types of people who visit the county, Chancey requested the board approve spending of up to $20,000 for a visitor profile study.

Pearson stated while she knows $20,000 sounds like a lot, she is convinced such a study is why Flagler County was able to raise its bed tax from 3 percent to 4 percent.

“I know we will capture that money back,” she said.

The board approved the request.

Chronicle reporter Shemir Wiles can be reached at 352-564-2924 or swiles@chronicleonline.com.