Visitors Bureau meets local businesses

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Gathering held in Cedar Key

By Kellie Parkin

The Levy County Visitors Bureau met with area businesses in Cedar Key this week to discuss how the agency works to promote local tourism.

“I would like to make this an annual event – maybe in May with Tourism Week,” said Carol McQueen, Executive Director of the Visitors Bureau. “We collect a tax and I think people want to know what we do with it.”

The Visitors Bureau operates from a 2 percent Tourism Development Tax that is collected throughout the county from the accommodation industry. The tax is charged per overnight stay in any short term lodging of six months or less, including condos, cottages, motels, and hotels.

Estimated revenue from the tax was $169,800 in the 2006-07 fiscal year, according to McQueen. Last year, travel to the county was down by about 5 percent, bringing in about $162,000, she said.

The Visitors Bureau focuses on advertising in key markets such as Atlanta and Birmingham to bring visitors to Levy County, said McQueen. “Our marketing efforts encompass the entire United States with targeted markets in the Southeast,” she said.

Ninety percent of the Visitor Bureau’s advertising provides an opportunity for reader response, where potential travelers can request to have more information about Levy County sent to them, according to McQueen. Reader response is an effective marketing tool that can help show how well certain ad campaigns are working.

The Visitors Bureau spent about $43,300 on advertising for the 2008-09 fiscal year.

Approximately 60 percent of people who come to the state have not made reservations, McQueen said. “They have some idea of where they’re going but they’re open to possibilities.”

“Cedar Key is the Jewel of Levy County – it’s on the water and it has the largest number of accommodations,” McQueen said. “Once people find Cedar Key, you can let them in on the other secrets of Levy County.”

Some of Levy’s attractions

The greater Chiefland area is home to the Levy County Quilt Museum, Dakotah Winery, and swimming, snorkeling and diving in Manatee Springs State Park, where one can also enjoy the birds and trails. Just minutes north visitors can enjoy fishing and swimming at Fanning Springs State Park.

In the county seat of Bronson one can find the Bronson Motor Speedway as well as snorkeling and swimming at Blue Springs Park. About 10 miles south is the Goethe State Forest, known for its birding as well as trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.

The city of Williston is home to the Rhino Sporting Clay Facility, The Williston Horseman’s Park, golfing at the Williston Highlands Country Club, snorkeling and diving at Devil’s Den Springs and Resort and at Blue Grotto, and the Two Tails Farm where one can see exotic animals such as elephants, zebras, and tigers.

McQueen noted that it benefits everyone to promote travel and exploration to visitors countywide. “Once they’re here, we want them to stay the night – as many nights as possible.” In addition to patronizing local businesses while in town, the more nights people stay, the more Tourism Development Tax dollars will be collected, thereby increasing the amount to spend on marketing Levy County to potential visitors, she said.

Another marketing strategy that is sure to bring great results, McQueen said, is the Familiarization Tours that the Levy County Visitors Bureau participates in. Travel writers visit different areas as part of these tours and experience local adventures, eat in restaurants, and stay in lodgings, which they subsequently write about.

Meals, rooms, and guided tours are offered complimentary as part of participation in the program.

“It’s the best bang for your buck,” McQueen said.

McQueen and her staff distribute brochures at trade shows throughout Florida, including at The Villages, military bases, and the Tampa Outdoor & Boat Show. They also participate in VISIT FLORIDA’s Spring and Fall Welcome Center Festivals, where hundreds of brochures are handed out to travelers coming into the state, McQueen said.

More information about the Levy County Visitors Bureau is available at www.VisitNatureCoast.com.

VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s official tourism marketing cooperation, also made a presentation at the meeting. Businesses can partner with VISIT FLORIDA to increase marketing exposure. There are different levels of partnership, with corresponding costs, as well as various offerings depending on the needs of individual businesses. For more information, go to www.visitflorida.com.