Monday, October 05, 2015

"Let the slow times roll," by Jim Sutton

Jim Sutton: Let the slow times roll
Posted: October 4, 2015 - 12:12am

Opinions Editor
St. Augustine Record

Monday the Tourist Development Council met, with an eye toward plugging what it sees as a slow leak in the steadily inflated flow of tourism in St. Johns County that occurs in late summer through early fall.

The general idea is to try to create a sub-brand for that time slot, similar to the branding of the winter Nights of Lights.

The TDC’s mission is as advertised — to develop tourism. And, by just about any standard, that crew has done an excellent job over the years. The proof is in the publicity, so to speak. It would not be surprising to soon discover that we have made the Top 10 list of the places worldwide that have made the most Top 10 lists. We are not under-publicized.

But the rush to fill a somewhat frenetic calendar already packed with festivals, foot races, parades and such might not be the ticket right now. The TDC is in what it terms an “embryonic” stage in planning how to slow the rush of air from tourism’s sails during the downtime.

So here’s a suggestion: Let the slow times roll.

St. Johns County is in an enviable evolution in tourism where numbers are strong.

The next step is already being discussed as a “tipping point” where we may have too much of a good thing going — think Branson, Key West or Orlando. Let’s be clear upfront that the strong tourist draw is due, in a big way, to the work of the TDC in the past. We’ve not only got good numbers, but also the sophistication of the visitor is heading in the right direction — with eyes on beaches, drink, food and fun, sure. But cultural assets are becoming an increasingly high priority on the tourists’ bucket lists when they arrive.

So let’s advertise the season, but tell them the truth: “Come on over. It’s slow down time.” And, while were at it, let’s target a new set of tourists: Those who live within 30 miles of the Castillo de San Marcos — our own residents. Let’s give the town back to them for a spell.

Despite all the early grousing about the 450th and its negative effect on the town, the citizenry did not stay away in droves. It’s very clear that, in fact, folks stuck their heads out of their downtown neighborhoods, rubbed their eyes, took off their bedroom slippers and risked the trip to the bayfront during the celebration. The crankiest of the naysayers became some of the biggest cheerleaders of the event. You know who you are.

People reconnected with downtown. And, what’s missing from the discussion is that the opposite came true, too.

The downtown merchants and residents reconnected with friends, families and customers from the larger community. It was almost, dare I stretch, Woodstock-esque, minus the hallucinogenic haze (to the great relief of Police Chief Loran Lueders).

The touristy thing to do around here has, historically, been to fund (by all county taxpayers) events and advertising designed primarily for the good of the merchants and lodging folks — while the neighbors on Abbott Street utter things the kids in the car seats shouldn’t hear while stuck in traffic, or waiting for a table at a downtown eatery.

Several of the attractions in town now open their doors to those residents showing a county ID. Make it bigger — much bigger.

How about Resident Appreciation Days? Ask every restaurant, gallery, attraction, church, 16th century Spanish fortress and beach in the county to offer free admission or a significant “Discover Us” discount to our own people.

Shoot, offer the “Discover Us” discount to all visitors, and spread the word. Tell them it’s slow. Tell them we know it. Tell them it’s a very nice time to visit, dawdle, poke around an art gallery, visit a museum, engage a re-enactor, discover the root of our country’s black history, quaff a pint and spend leisurely time with us in the cool fall air.

Throw in half-price garage parking as part of the package for out-of-towners. Just make it slow and easy.

Here’s one for Glenn Hastings and the “TDC crew: “Discover Us days. Live it like a local.”

In the south we call it “visiting” when we slow down enough to spend quality time with friends and family — get reacquainted (iced tea not optional).

Might that not work with a city? Don’t we want an expanded conversation about who we are with the world at large, as well as the residents of Davis Shores? The 450th demonstrated that residents are our very best ambassadors, yet an under-appreciated asset.

Just think it over... Live it like a local. You know, that’s got some snap.

Comments (4)

mikewoodruff 10/04/15 - 09:58 am 40Nicely written Jim
My wife and I really look forward to the "slow time" when we can actually enjoy local life without fighting crowds. I agree that any effort to attract visitors should focus on nearby residents. I am guessing that spending a lot of money trying to entice people to spend several nights at this time of year would be money wasted. Yankees and Canadians are not ready to come down and when Florida elected to start school in the middle of August that truncated the family vacation season.

sponger2 10/04/15 - 06:10 pm 50The right track.
We live here, make the parking free. I would gladly walk from any parking garage or parking space downtown to stroll the streets and spend my money. But to live here and yet pay for the privilege makes my blood boil, period. Remember, it never used to be that way. Despite the "change is good" crowd, not all change is good, this being one of them. GREED at work here.

Nigel 10/05/15 - 07:17 am 30Amen
Why don't they have a check box on tag registration renewals where you can buy a city parking pass for a nominal fee ( to cover decal and labor). Check the box send another check and the decal comes with your tag.

Call it the Fall Romance Season. That time of year it's mostly couples that travel, they like it cause it is quieter and the kids are readying for school, been that way for years.

Morris1 10/04/15 - 10:01 pm 20When the pier blew down....
... in the early 80's and they had to build a new one, every tax paying resident was given a special card (a blue one) that gave them lifetime entry, for free, so long as they shall live.

The thinking being that they were the ones paying for it, they shouldn't have to pay to use it, too. You don't see those blue cards very often anymore, but a few old-timers still wander out there from time to time.

Are the parking assets in the CIty of St Augustine in any way funded with city or county dollars? If so, its just gross that those same people also have to pay again to use what they're already paying for. Government double-dipping is a real peeve of mine. Why do I have to pay $25 to get a copy of my own birth certificate when I'm already paying them a salary and funding all their equipment and building?

I realize that Grover Norquist has been made into a boogieman, but its really not hard to comprehend his thinking on some of this stuff.

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