Categorized | Featured Articles, Profiles

Bring it Home, Jacksonville

By Jim Molis

Sometimes the most powerful answers are among the most obvious.

C66C0789_kmccrayWhen contemplating how to accelerate the growth of Northeast Florida’s already expanding tourism industry, leaders of Visit Jacksonville turned to the people who know Jacksonville best for help—local businesses and citizens.

Visit Jacksonville’s new “Bring it Home,Jax!” campaign encourages residents to recruit meetings and conventions by connecting the city’s destination marketing organization to the leaders of organizations to which they belong, like professional associations, nonprofits and religious groups.

“When you are talking to various leaders about this notion that they can be influential in bringing this prosperity to this community they say, ‘I’ve gone to this association convention for 30 years and I’ve never thought to ask them to bring it to Jacksonville. Now that you put this in my mind I’m going to do it,’” Visit Jacksonville President and CEO Paul Astleford said.

The Bring it Home initiative educates area residents on tourism’s impact as an economic engine, and explains how local businesses and individuals can help Visit Jacksonville apply the gas.

Visitor spending in Jacksonville has averaged 4 percent gains every year for the past five years, including rising to $1.5 billion in 2013—which represented an 18 percent increase since 2009, according to a recently released economic impact study funded by Visit Jacksonville and independently conducted by Tourism Economics, a division of Oxford Economics. All told,including indirect and induced business sales, tourism generated $2.2 billion in revenue and supported 22,000 jobs in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2013.

“As that awareness grows, hopefully the community will see that value and help grow that industry into the economic development engine it could be in this community because of what Jacksonville has to offer,” Astleford said.

“We’re looking for big smiles on peoples’ faces and looking for people to help us bring that prosperity that the visitor industry creates here in Jacksonville.”

The Bring it Home initiative sprang from Visit Jacksonville’s collaboration with three or four local residents who had sought its help in convincing groups and organizations to which they belonged to host their events in town. Together, the residents and representatives of Visit Jacksonville secured three new events, including a national conference.

“Almost everybody in the community is involved one way or another,” with groups that hold meetings and conferences, Astleford said, like associations, corporations and government agencies and industry trade organizations.

“After some discussion on this, we started to come to the realization that if we could enlist our community in becoming conscious of their power to actually invite these organizations that they’re influential with to Jacksonville for their annual or regional meetings or association conferences it could mean a huge economic impact.”

Visit Jacksonville helped Florida State College at Jacksonville Professor Lourdes Norman-McKay prepare the application that helped the city land the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society’s annual convention, which is expected to draw more than 400 visitors from May 24-29. “They were the support I needed to make it doable,” she said.

Attendance will compare favorably with previous HAPS conventions but the society may be able to net more given Jacksonville’s affordability when compared with previous host cities, such as Las Vegas, Norman-McKay said.

Professional societies like HAPS prefer cities with convenient logistics like airports and central locations, but such access often costs more,” Norman-McKay said. “Jacksonville fits a nice niche there.”

Event organizers welcome members’ suggestions for host cities, Astleford said. Visit Jacksonville is only asking local individuals to connect it to the decision-makers so that they can provide them with more information.

“These leaders often are very happy that a community is interested in hosting their event. It’s their responsibility to be investigating any community that can provide a good meeting experience for the people who will be attending.”

Visit Jacksonville also is working with the Duval County Tourist Development Council and businesses in the tourism industry to build awareness of what the city has to offer. Duval County drew 4 million visitors last year, according to Visit Florida.

”When you’re talking about that many people coming and staying, spending two to three nights in our community that’s where the impact is,” Astleford said.

Retailers, restaurants, tourist destinations and hotels benefit directly from the industry’s continued growth because they attract additional revenue. But all businesses indirectly benefit through a stronger economy that supports additional spending and employment, as well as a broader tax base that mitigates tax increases, Astleford said.

Were it not for the taxes generated by tourism, every household would need to pay an additional $550 a year in local and state taxes to maintain government services, he said. “When you have visitors coming in and freely spending their money and contributing to the tax base both for the city and the state that industry is one of the largest industries.”

gary smith“We get a lot of leads from Visit Jacksonville, so we know who’s coming to town and we approach them, said Gary Smith, director of sales and development for The Alhambra Theatre.

Event organizers appreciate the opportunity to get a quality meal and performance together, Smith said. “We’re a full evening for them, without them having to move.”

Tour-bus operators are especially appreciative of the chance to provide an experience that their customers can’t always get in other cities, he said. “They select an area as a destination and build a package around that.”

Visit Jacksonville’s outreach efforts help, Smith said. “The more we can get people to visit the area, the more chances I get to convince them to include The Alhambra in their visit. ”

Visit Jacksonville’s Bring it Home initiative could quickly bolster the industry locally, Astleford said. “When this program gets up and running we could easily bring another 50 to 100 groups just through the people of Jacksonville who are reaching out.”

No event is too small, given the collective benefits of attracting more visitors, Astleford said. ”It’s not just about them bringing in the money. It’s about creating an exposure through the tourism industry.

“That’s the kind of exposure that creates growth, which creates prosperity. That prosperity creates a better quality of life for all of our community.”


Making a Mark

Jacksonville is a growing visitor destination, according to the following results from the first tourism economic impact study to be conducted in Jacksonville since 2009.

  • Direct tourism expenditures represented a $1.5 billion economic impact in Duval County in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2013. That exceeds the city of Jacksonville’s annual budget and nearly matches the annual budget for Duval County Public Schools.
  • Of visitor spending, food and beverage businesses receive 29 percent, lodging comprises 25 percent and retail represents 20 percent.
  • Including indirect and induced business sales, tourism generated $2.2 billion in revenue in FY2013. That is nearly the total profit generated by Honda Motors in 2013 – an international company and one of the top 100 public companies worldwide.
  • Tourism employment grew nearly 6 percent in FY2013, growing nearly 3.5 percentage points faster than overall Duval County employment.
  • If employed by a single business, the 16,500 employees employed directly by the tourism industry would rank third in employment in Jacksonville–behind only Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Duval County Public Schools.
  • Including indirect and induced impacts, tourism in Jacksonville generated $180 million in state and local taxes and $147 million in federal taxes last year.
  • In the absence of the state and local taxes generated by tourism, each Jacksonville household would need to pay $550 to maintain the current level of government services.
  • The city’s Tourist Development Council has awarded nearly $1.3 million each of the last two years to bring new special events and conventions to the city, and to help smaller events grow into regional, and even national, events.

Worth Mentioning

Visit Jacksonville is asking local businesses and individuals to help recruit events. Here are some points to consider.

  • Jacksonville has a similar climate to other Florida cities but is an affordable city to visit compared to peer cities like Tampa, Charlotte, Nashville and Atlanta.
  • Medical tourism is a potential growth area because Jacksonville has health-care institutions like Mayo Clinic, UF Health/Shands Hospital, Baptist Health and a growing bio-medical industry. It also will soon be the only U.S. city with two proton therapy facility options.
  • Eco-tourism is a natural draw given that the city has more river and ocean coastline than any city in the country – offering access to 1,100 miles of river, Intracoastal and tributaries in Duval County, with nearly 60 boat ramps and launch sites, and 22 miles of beachfront.  It also has 80,000 acres of parks, more than any city in the country, which includes 10 state and national parks.

For more information, visit


Florida State College at Jacksonville Professor Lourdes Norman-McKay, second from right,received a Hometown Ambassador award from Visit Jacksonville's leaders for helping to bring a national conference to town.

Florida State College at Jacksonville Professor Lourdes Norman-McKay, second from right,received a Hometown Ambassador award from Visit Jacksonville’s leaders for helping to bring a national conference to town.

Business + Entertainment

Florida State College at Jacksonville Professor Lourdes Norman-McKay would like members of professional societies to consider Jacksonville to be a focal point for education and the arts, along with the likes of Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia.

“We’re really trying to change that,” said Norman-McKay, who worked with Visit Jacksonville to secure the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society’s annual convention, which is expected to draw more than 400 visitors from May 24-29.

It is hard to draw clinicians and scientists to an area without access to professional education, Norman-McKay said. Local health-care institutions with highly educated workforces could better recruit professionals who want to continually enhance their knowledge without traveling far or frequently, she said,  if Jacksonville were to host more events like the upcoming HAPS convention.

“Professional development is required to be lifelong learners and keep up on your skills,” Norman-McKay said. “It gets expensive when you have to go away from your home to do that. It’s nice when it’s in you backyard.”

HAPS drew about 70 professionals to a regional meeting that it held in Jacksonville in spring 2012 and has enjoyed working with the local tourism industry so much that the society’s leaders already want to return after the upcoming annual convention, Norman-McKay said.

Visit Jacksonville President and CEO Paul Astleford said, “We always hear from these events that have come to Jacksonville how helpful, how warm, how friendly the atmosphere has been for their attendees.”

Event organizers enjoy hosting activities like trips to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and dinner cruises along the St. Johns River. “The list goes on and on about what people love doing here in Jacksonville,” he said.

Visitors want fun and culture, said Gary Smith, director of sales and development for The Alhambra Theatre. “We’re the culture part of it.”

Alhambra guests get a quality meal and performance together for a price that is equal to or better than the cost of only a show at other venues,  Smith said. All 374the seats are within 75 feet of the stage as well.

The Alhambra also does private corporate events,  providing groups with performances or custom-themed events that capitalize on the venue’s setup.

“The intimacy of the theater allows you to be so close in a corporate environment that the speaker is right there,” Smith said. “The event has a special feel about it.”

Convening at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront hotel, HAPS has scheduled a fundraising run for its foundation along the Downtown Riverwalk. “It’s a safe place for people to run and it’s a beautiful view while running,” Norman-McKay said.

HAPS has also chartered buses to take attendees to St. Augustine on the final day. “It was a really cheap way for them to piggyback on the conference and see an attraction,” Norman-McKay said.

In fact, organizers underestimated the number of rooms to block off for Wednesday night, expecting more attendees to leave before the final day, base upon previous conferences.

“They’re really interested in taking that day trip,” Norman-McKay said. “It’s a good draw.”

Perhaps word will reach members of other professional societies as well.


Visit Jacksonville Services Department Helps Local Groups with Meetings

By Ron Whittington

Visit Jacksonville’s sales team goes out to trade shows and events with professional and in-house meeting planners to compete with other cities to bring conventions and meetings of all types and sizes to Jacksonville.

The six-person sales team brings in about 380 such meetings a year, which are booked directly through Visit Jacksonville.

Taylor Terry and Nicole ChapmanAfter a meeting is signed, sealed and delivered, the process of fulfilling the group’s needs before, during and immediately after its event falls to the tourist agency’s services department—made up of convention services manager Nicole Chapman and services coordinator Taylor Terry.

Chapman’s and Terry’s responsibilities include finding venues where the groups can meet and other locations for off-site events and receptions, directing groups to attractions that fit their age group and interests, providing a list of dining and entertainment options, and connecting groups with local companies to provide additional registration staffing, audio-visual support and other services from local vendors to ensure that meetings go smoothly.

But what most people in Jacksonville don’t know is that in addition to providing support for meetings and conventions booked through the sales staff, the services department will also help local businesses and groups with their own meetings,

“As the city’s destination marketing organization, we provide these services free of charge whether the meeting came through our sales personnel or not,” Chapman said. “Whether a business or group is holding a meeting or a leisure event, the wide range of services we offer to the large meetings and conventions are also at their disposal.”

Chapman recently assisted the Gator Club and Jacksonville’s Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) in setting up meetings in the city. Terry found a meeting venue for a church, a Jacksonville location for a large birthday party, and assisted a group that was looking for a list of the ‘nicer’ restaurants for an upcoming stay in the city.

Having handled thousands of groups over the 18 years Visit Jacksonville has been under contract to the city, local businesses are ensured that, whatever the need, the services department has probably handled the request several times.

Specifically, the services team:

  • Helps identify venues for the group or organization
  • Serves as a liaison to help the customer obtain any necessary proposals from local businesses
  • Provides a customized list of local vendors so clients can contact them at their leisure
  • Offers direction in obtaining welcoming speakers such as the mayor and other local leaders
  • Provides copies of Visit Jacksonville’s Visitors Magazine for guests
  • Assists and suggests off-site itineraries for dining, shopping, attractions and other activities
  • Obtains welcome letters from the mayor’s office for the incoming meeting or convention
  • Coordinates with local staffing agencies to support registration and other needs during the event

“Our strength is in having all these great connections to all the different hotels, venues, attractions and local vendors on a first-name basis, since they hear from us so much,” Chapman said.  “We’ve built some great relationships with many of the companies in the city, and they go out of their way to help when they hear from us.”

Chapman, who just celebrated her eighth year at Visit Jacksonville, has also helped with unique requests, including finding a vendor to provide oranges for all convention guests when they arrived in town and finding a transportation company that could accommodate a motorized scooter over several days while a guest was in town.

Taylor, who has worked at Visit Jacksonville for five years and joined the services department in 2011, said the team reaches out immediately when “a group goes definite.”

“Regardless of whether it’s a group we booked or not, I really enjoy meeting the people and learning about the different groups coming here,” she said. “My job is never the same every day, which I like, and I really love our community and bringing events to the city.”

Visit Jacksonville President and CEO Paul Astleford wants every resident to consider the Visit Jacksonville services team as their destination expert.

“Many meetings and conventions return to Jacksonville again and again, in large part due to the diligence, professionalism and hospitality provided by our services team,” he said.

To learn more about how Visit Jacksonville can help with your event, call (904) 798-9111.




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