Tourism Development Council hopes future plans will offset shortfall created by pandemic

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 8/26/20

CLAY COUNTY – Bed tax collections from visitors are down 11.25% and the Tourism Development Council now faces a 30% shortfall to its budget.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has hit Clay County’s …

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Tourism Development Council hopes future plans will offset shortfall created by pandemic

Posted

CLAY COUNTY – Bed tax collections from visitors are down 11.25% and the Tourism Development Council now faces a 30% shortfall to its budget.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has hit Clay County’s tourism especially hard. Fewer people are traveling, which means less people are sleeping in county hotels and spending tourist dollars at county businesses.

TDC officials, however, are remaining optimistic by formulating an aggressive plan for the future.

“Even if we experience the worst month of collections so far that we’ve had, we still come very close to meeting budget so that’s the good news,” tourism director Kimberly Morgan said during the Aug. 19 meeting. “We’ve been very conservative, but this is better than our worst-case scenario. It’s still not great...but it is better than what we were talking about in March.”

Morgan said with bed tax collections down, the TDC is looking at taking a 28.58% hit. She said this translates to $813,942 collected so far this year. The TDC is estimating to end the fiscal year somewhere in between $850,000 and $900,000 as there are still roughly six weeks of collections to account for as the fiscal year ends in September.

“It should’ve been about $1.2 million...and it looks like we’ll come in between $850,000 and $900,000,” TDC chairman Mike Cella said.

The TDC is looking to EVOK Advertising to help turn things around for next year. EVOK account executive Allison Parker and Vice President Stewart Hill presented their marketing plan for the county during last week’s meeting. Morgan said Hill, Parker and EVOK have an 18-month plan that will reposition Clay County as the place to travel to in 2020-21.

The plans goals include increasing awareness of Clay County and reasons to visit the area, creating new benchmarks and trends for the TDC to follow and keep track of, and driving visitation to not only the county’s best spots, but to its tourism-related resources. This includes the county’s new tourism website which will be going live soon.

“[Benchmarks] are just a fancy marketing world but it just means, ‘What are the performance indicators that mean we’re doing a good job?’ There’s nothing worse than coming to the end of a plan and asking, ‘Did it work?’” Hill said. “It should be very clear to you. As a destination, we’re accountable to our residents and our government and we have to be able to say, ‘We are spending your money wisely.’”

Parker said the strategies EVOK uses will focus on showing tourists why Clay County is a great place to visit, especially in this coronavirus world. She explained that much of what Clay County offers to tourists is already promotes socially-distancing: kayaking and fishing on the river, nature parks and trails, campgrounds and golf courses.

“We need to target that,” Parker said. “We need people to see why Clay County in Northeast Florida is the place to be over South Florida.”

EVOK will do it through sponsored content, streaming radio, streaming TV, Authentic Florida marketing, Google ads, YouTube ads and Facebook ads. Will it be enough to help Clay County’s tourism rise above falling bed tax collections amidst a pandemic is still up for debate but EVOK, Morgan and the TDC are excited about the future.

“We are a destination that can tap into the fact that people want to travel,” Hill said. “They want to do something. They’ve been home for months and months and months, and a county like ours can deliver on that so let’s make sure that we are a player.”

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