When the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau kicked off the 8th State of the Tourism Industry summit May 17, it presented proof positive that tourism works in St. Johns County.
More than 200 people turned out for the annual event held at the Renaissance World Golf Village Resort and Convention Center. Tourism and hospitality industry employees were joined by city and county leaders, and community members who came to hear more about the health of tourism and future travel trends.
Visit Florida's CEO Ken Lawson discussed the Florida Legislature's decision to fund VISIT FLORIDA at $25 million and impose restrictions on how Visit Florida can help destinations like Florida's Historic Coast. Lawson emphasized that the cuts and restrictions imposed on Visit Florida by the legislature would negatively affect the state's leading economic driver and leave Florida vulnerable from competitors like California, which is already marketing to lure potential business away from the Sunshine State. Lawson rallied the crowd by promising that Visit Florida would stay strong in its mission to support jobs and the state economy by continuing to put its resources behind marketing Florida to drive visitors and the tax dollars they bring with them to Florida.
Richard Goldman, President and CEO of the Visitors and Convention Bureau, reported that record numbers of tourists are visiting Florida's Historic Coast. "In the past year our supply - the number of available rooms in St. Johns County - has increased by nearly 4 percent. That may not sound like much but it comes after several years without adding any new hotel rooms. What's more, it's multi-dimensional -- a healthy mix of new construction, expansion and renovation with much of it coming in the upscale and luxury categories."
St. Augustine City Manager John Regan was recognized along with the city staff and Angels in the Architecture for the herculean effort made to ensure Nights of Lights would light up the city again after the devastating affects of Hurricane Matthew.
Wrapping up the event was Dr. Peter Yesawich,whose Portrait of the American Traveler has become a valuable indicator of future travel trends. Among the research findings that Yesawich shared was the fact that Millennials are motivated to vacation --more than Boomers or GenXers --by the varied types of experiences they can find as compared to simply "relaxation" and "getting away from home" favored by older cohorts. He also reported that 32% of respondents (40% of Millennials) who plan to travel for leisure in the next two years are interested in visiting the St. Augustine and Ponte Vedra area. That's more than are interested in visiting Naples, Florida, and other well-known destinations.
Located midway between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville, Florida's Historic Coast includes historic St. Augustine, the outstanding golf and seaside elegance of Ponte Vedra Beach and 42 miles of pristine Atlantic beaches.
Photos: Courtesy St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau