Study asked ‘where do Clay’s guests come from?’

Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 5/30/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Despite how close Jacksonville might be to Clay County, it is not the city responsible for bringing the most people here.

That’s the latest finding from a visitor study …

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Study asked ‘where do Clay’s guests come from?’


GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Despite how close Jacksonville might be to Clay County, it is not the city responsible for bringing the most people here.

That’s the latest finding from a visitor study conducted on behalf of the Clay County Tourist Development Council. At its May 16 meeting, council members received updated information about the types of guests who come to Clay County and for what reasons.

Despite the belief that Jacksonville would likely be the city most responsible for bringing people into Clay, council members were surprised to learn that a city nearly three hours south of Clay County took that title.

“Orlando is at the top and that could be because it’s one of the larger metro areas in the state,” said Brian London, a Jacksonville-based tourism economist with the Washington-D.C.-based firm of Destinations International. “Specifically, the ZIP Code 32827 is the population we studied from Orlando.”

In fact, not only is Jacksonville not No. 1, it’s actually No. 5 five on London’s list of cities that bring people into Clay County. Following Orlando is Tampa, then Gainesville, then Atlanta and finally, Jacksonville. As part of his presentation, London explained a general profile of the people that visit the county from each of those cities.

According to London, 85 percent of the people from ZIP Code 32827 are married couples who live in single family housing. They are generally well-educated professionals who already have a running start on prosperity. These people are further categorized by a dedication to hard work and sacrifice to improve their economic circumstances and despite their usual visits to theme parks, when they visit Clay County they’re actually looking for the opposite of Disney or Universal Studios.

“They don’t necessarily want theme parks when they travel because they have those at home,” London said.

London suggested that Orlando visitors are looking for slower-paced and not-so-flashy attractions and events. He also suggested that when marketing to Orlando, it’s important to utilize cell phones and computers as a preferred method of communication.

Tampa, on the other hand, sways more young and restless, according to London. These visitors are singles paying rent, embracing “foodie” culture and looking for something to spend their income on. According to London, Tampa individuals have a disposable income and are looking for things not only in their city to spend money on, but things outside of it as well.

“Something like your [county] fair might bring them here,” London said. “To get them here, like Orlando, market to their TVs, their computers and their phones.”

According to London, Gainesville visitors are best described as people still completing their college education or people who just recently landed their first career-like job following their completion of college. Because of this, they are also picking where they want to vacation for the first time in their life.

“They have their own money now and they get to decide where to go,” London said. “They might not necessarily come to Clay to stay for a bit but they might be passing through and while doing so, stop for something going on in the area.”

He also said many Gainesville residents might be college students coming back to Clay County to visit their families.

Before getting to Jacksonville, London said Atlanta is a single and ready to mingle market with a lot of money. Their residents spend money on new technology, clothes, leisure activities and more and, because of that, London said they might be more interested in what there is to do on a day-to-day basis in Clay County rather than a one-time event. He also said Atlanta visitors are, like those of Gainesville, potentially passing through the area and decide to stop in Clay for the day.

Finally, London described Jacksonville as primarily a white-collar workforce with 19 percent of Jacksonville residents being married without children or single living in single family housing. Their incomes are modest but above the average net worth and they are very family-oriented. London said they might prefer an event that brings the entire family together, such as the Clay County Agricultural Fair. This market primarily spends their time playing online video games when using the internet, watching TV or reading the newspaper and these three things are where London suggested marketing dollars go to when trying to reach the Jacksonville market.

“You could also categorize Jacksonville as metro fusion,” London said. “They’re single, young, diverse and looking for activities to keep them busy and spend their money on.”

The metro fusion market of Jacksonville is one of the most diverse markets of the five London discussed with 30 percent of the market being African-American, another 34 percent being Hispanic and another 20 percent being what London described as foreign-born, or someone who was born out of the country and later moved to America to live here.

One of the first questions the council asked after London finished his presentation was why Jacksonville was number five and not number one, despite being so close in proximity to Clay County. According to London, it’s because Jacksonville is a very competitive market.

“Folks in Jacksonville are our friends and we need to make sure that they are constantly aware of things there are to see and do here,” London said. “As an alternative, they are things for them to see and do elsewhere in the region. We are competing for those dollars and it’s important to stay out in front of them.”

Moving forward, London told the council that there are five things to focus on now that they’ve profiled those who visit Clay County. The next steps are determining who’s heard of Clay County, what they think of the area, what external impacts affect the county, what the implications of this data are and how the Clay County community spends its resources.

“Obviously, some of our focus is going to be dictated by marketing conditions and opportunities that come to us or that we come across so we have to keep our eyes on that,” Tourism Development Council Chairman Mike Cella said. “We have to make sure that we don’t miss something that would be worthwhile for Clay County, especially in getting people to visit.”

It’s important to note that this came from voluntary surveys at ticketed events such as the fair or Highland Games, and at non-ticketed events such as the Orange Park Fall Festival.

Following London’s presentation, Clay County Director of Tourism and Film Development Kimberly Morgan informed the council that overall, tourism in Clay County was up from 2015 to 2016--the council has only just now received statistics from 2016 and those from 2017 can be expected at a later date.

“Tourism-related jobs is up 7 percent in Clay County,” Morgan said. “In Northeast Florida, that number was flat and in that state, that number decreased a little bit so I just want to brag about Clay County a little bit.”

Morgan said that visitor spending has increased by 5 percent to $169.2 million dollars and as a result, tourism revenue has gone up by 6 percent.

In other news, the council agreed to on a way to utilize grants funds left over from events in Clay County. For those unfamiliar, the Tourism Development Council gives out grants each year to sponsored events, such as a musical at the Thrasher-Horne center, to signature events, which are events that attract a minimum audience of 20,000, or to special events, which are events with less of a crowd but still achieve decent attendance nonetheless. Signature events can receive a maximum of $45,000 while a special event can only receive a grant up to $3,500.

According to Morgan, a decent portion of the funds in these grants go unused. For example, a signature event awarded $45,000--which like all of the TDC grants, must be used to market outside of the county--might only utilize $35,000. The TDC agreed to create a rollover line item in the budget where these extra funds can go. These extra funds can be used to help smaller events that don’t qualify for a grant market their event outside of Clay County. No motion was necessary but all members of the council did agree that this was a good idea.


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