Tuesday, December 22, 2015

How Much Tourism Is Enough?: Food for Thought

With solid 2015 mostly in past, county Tourist Development Council looks to maintain momentum
Posted: December 21, 2015 - 11:34pm | Updated: December 22, 2015 - 12:38am

As Glenn Hastings addressed the St. Johns County Tourist Development Council board for the last time, his focus was on how the agency can make sure the county remains a top travel destination into the future.

Hastings, who is retiring at the end of the year as executive director of the TDC, talked about the need to develop a five- or 10-year plan to help focus the TDC mission.

“We need to start looking at our destination from (the perspective of) ‘How can we improve it?’” Hastings said. “We want to line up what we are doing with what our customers, our visitors want. Any way you look at it, the quality of the experience is key.”

The TDC’s job is to make recommendations to the County Commission on how to allocate “bed tax” dollars collected on short-term rentals.

While there was no direct action on Hastings’ idea, the board decided it wanted to remain flexible by not planning too far in advance but that there needs to be more planning.

“This is my No. 1 problem with what we do as a board,” TDC chair Irving Kass said. “We are reactionary instead of proactive.”

As an example, Kass said the TDC needs to look at bringing in new events to the county for August and September when the visitor numbers fall. September is usually the slowest month for tourism in the county.

Kass said the success of Nights of Lights is the best example of taking a slow time and turning the destination into a desirable place to be.

“I think we really have to be thinking that way,” he said.

Hastings said the county should work to attract events during the slower times of the year. He said research shows that events during the peak times actually turn off a lot of vacationers.

Since many of the events take place in the city of St. Augustine, TDC member and St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver said the city is trying to please those who attend events while protecting the experience for visitors more interested in checking out the attractions and historic sites. One thing the city has done is set aside some money to pay for re-enactors to spend time in popular tourist locations and interact with visitors.

“The thing I would like to share in terms of festivals (is) we can only regulate time, place and manner,” she said. “We are struggling very hard to have a coherent events policy. Typically, the revenue does not flow to local retail establishments or dining, and it puts a strain on parking.

“We’re working very hard to deliver the experience that is expected,” she said.

That mission gets more difficult to accomplish as the downtown historic district becomes saturated with visitors. TDC member Bill Hughes questioned whether the city is at capacity already.

Richard Goldman, CEO and president of the local visitors and convention bureau, said the historic district is jammed on weekends, but he reminded the board that isn’t the case on most weekdays. There is also potential for growth in plenty of other areas of the county.

“One of the things that’s important (to remember) is that while weekends are congested in the historic district, not everywhere is like that,” Goldman said. “Weekends we certainly have hit the wall in the historic district.”

Kass also reminded the board that new hotels are coming to the area — increasing the available number of rooms by about 10 percent.

While that adds visitors, it will also add parking, Goldman said.

“We already know we have hotels coming in, hotels with reservoirs for cars that will be parked and left,” he said.


sponger2 12/22/15 - 07:20 am 40Translation
Keep cash flow going at expense of locals to justify their continued existence. I just drove downtown last night and it was a zoo that took more than 30 minutes in bumper to bumper traffic to drive from where Rt 16 ends, make the right , go past the parking garage, round the corner to the bay front, see the lights in the square, and exit at the end of King street back on to US-1. It was absolutely charming. Unless you are a local shop keeper, the change is awful and the "small charm aura" is gone. It's like visiting "Historic Williamsburg".$$$

I am surprised they haven't started an Historic toilet tour yet. How about giving a free parking pass for one month a year to residents of SJC and lay off promoting and BS to let US enjoy the town we love without the swarming hordes for a change. It seems Santa has filed all their (the shop keepers) stockings. How about us???

martystaug 12/22/15 - 07:38 am 30Take a break
I think the TDC has had a couple of very productive years, and they deserve a nice long rest. So do the residents of St. Augustine. After the kids return to school, and before the holiday crush starts, (Sept) used to be a time for locals to enjoy walking around town, finding a parking space, and a table in a restaurant for a change. The TDC is determined to milk this cash cow for all its worth, not just for local businesses, which collect taxes to support the TDC, but to justify their own existence. Take a look at what the TDC's idea of a successful St. Augustine experience should be. Massive noisy crowds, gridlock, vehicles parked in the street all over town, and locals unable to leave home and return during any events. I hope the city and county councils will consider the impact to its citizens when it comes to the efforts of the TDC. The locals will support the downtown businesses if you just give us a chance.

mikewoodruff 12/22/15 - 08:00 am 10I'm not sure that the locals will support the downtown
businesses to the level they now enjoy. I remember the pre-nights of lights days in the '80s and 90's when St. George Street was a virtual ghost town (with no ghost tours) after 6 pm during December. I miss the quiet and the ability to roam downtown in the fall and I don't find that the restaurants and stores that have come to be downtown add to my quality of life - quite the contrary in fact. I am also very uncomfortable with the ease with which the north end of St. George Street by the old city gate was built up in less than a decade to the point where you can't see the water wheel at the Mill Top (and can't find the Mill Top in the clutter of new buildings) until you are parallel with it. All of this is due to the success in attracting tourists to St. Augustine and, to be fair to the small business owners who started their enterprises during the last 10 to 15 years, the visitors bring in money that gives income to families and employment (albeit mostly at minimum wage) to hundreds of locals. That written perhaps the same business owners should be responsible for funding efforts to attract yet more tourists. If re-enactors are good for business, maybe business should pay them, not tax money.

Just Asking Y 12/22/15 - 08:28 am 10Enough is enough
Do we really want to fill the city to capacity every day, every weekend, every month? When is enough, enough? Sponger2 is right-on. Downtown has been a zoo. Yes, it’s Nights of Lights, but it is more crowded, more congested than ever. Hastings “what our customers, our visitors want.” Shaver “trying to please those who attend events while protecting the experience for visitors.” What about the experience of those who live here? What happened to that? The almighty dollar once again raises its ugly head. Advertising the outlying areas will not help because the City of St. Augustine has been so over-advertised and over-exposed that 'visitors' (aka tourists) will always come by to check it out. Why not just STOP promoting for a while? Money may be the most important thing to some people however there are those of us who love this city and what to preserve what tranquility and quaintness there is left.

martystaug 12/22/15 - 01:06 pm 00Locals are the problem
When there is a boutique hotel on every block, and every home has been converted to a B&B, or bulldozed for parking it will still never be enough for the TDC. All those local citizens trying to live a tranquil life in this historic town are in the way of profits. Stop complaining about the traffic gridlock, parking problems and noise, and get out. Just sell out to one of their partners and get out of the way of progress (spelled PROFITS). All you holdouts trying to maintain some semblance of what life used to be here in St. Augustine are living in the past. This is the "vision" the TDC is working toward. There will be no locals living here, only proprietors, sales and wait staffs and tour operators. St. Augustine World is our future. Those of us living in the past are fighting a losing battle to the advertising and marketing of our "Historic Resources". They will never stop until what we knew and loved is gone forever.

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