Jax tourism marketing: A struggle for City Council presidents

Brosche Boyer

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche met with her immediate predecessor, Councilwoman Lori Boyer, on Monday.

The topic: tourism, and Jacksonville’s vehicle for driving tourist traffic: the Tourism Development Council.

The Boyer Presidency saw a revision in the funding model for the TDC, yet tourism marketing is still very much a work in progress for Jacksonville, a city that has struggled to find a definitive brand identity in the way neighboring metros have.

With questions lingering about how Jacksonville should market itself as a tourism destination, including marketing via Visit Jacksonville, the handoff of the Presidency from Boyer to Brosche is of particular interest as Jacksonville attempts to compete with destination cities both to the north and south.

Boyer took a characteristically strong and definite position in attempting to drive and revise dated policy in her two years on TDC, and gave Brosche some advice as she went into the role; specifically, as the new President gears up for a previously unfamiliar role.

Boyer noted that when she came in, the TDC was “not performing a strong contract oversight role,” with over 70 percent of budget going to Visit Jacksonville, privileging Visit Jacksonville over TDC in the management of the city’s $7 million plus budget for TDC.

There were multiple budgets, Boyer said, but they “operated on a pay-to-play system,” with partnerships leading to promotion at a commensurate level to spend.

“We had history, museums, venues that were nowhere to be found on our official tourism website or literature,” Boyer said.

Gradually, Boyer said, the TDC got its “act together” — providentially, before Florida House leadership in the form of Speaker Richard Corcoran took an interest in it.

Boyer discussed the work done in recent years, including ROI studies (such as one done on the need for a convention center).

And convention sales were a leit motif of the discussion.

“They are way down,” Boyer said this year, at roughly half of capacity as projection for the year.

“It’s terrible. Their explanation is they’re down two sales people,” Boyer said.

That shortfall of sales right now has no recourse, and this leads to a falloff in tourist development tax; however, the next contract, which starts Oct. 1, would potentially offer recourse for the city.

Boyer discussed a visitor information contract, for which the city rejected all of the bids, as no one met the scoring criteria. Visit Jacksonville did get an interview; they wanted twice the money for doing the same work as previously.

“We’re doing a great job and we’re going to keep doing it” was how Boyer summed up that position.

A discussion of a visitors’ center soon followed, with Boyer noting the lack of a real “public facing visitors’ center” beyond a “space in a building.”

The goal, said Boyer: a “real visitors’ center” in the next few years, something “more than just a brochure rack,” a multimedia center with computers and movies to showcase Jacksonville’s unique value adds.

The visitor’s kiosk at the airport, meanwhile, showcases a small fraction of Jacksonville stuff — another issue Boyer would like to see rectified.

Boyer also studied how grants were allocated across the state.

One common thread: in every case, grants have to go to tourism — either marketing or infrastructure.

Grant allocations can be a complicated formula. For something like the PLAYERS Championship, the $250,000 grant may not bring in overnight visitors, but can help with helping maximize that exposure.

However, the goal ultimately is generating tourist development tax, which is “much higher” in Orlando or Tampa due to rates per room.

Part of that: the lack of elite hotels in Jacksonville, and a prevalence of “limited service hotels.”

Thus, the need for conventions to fill dead spots in the schedule.

Boyer also noted the annualization of marketing plans, which typically are done on a year to year basis.

Over time with some groups, Boyer noted a dramatic change in the marketing for some groups, with the idea of getting campaigns that drive money to Jacksonville — not always a given, as some groups weren’t synthesizing local branding with promoting themselves.

The aforementioned special Thursday meeting of the TDC, meanwhile, will include a marketing presentation from Michael Munz of the Dalton Agency and Paul Astleford of Visit Jacksonville.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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