Absenteeism hampers work of tourism council

While bed tax collections are up for another month, the board responsible for making recommendations on how to spend that money is shrinking.

Attendance at Tourist Development Council board and committee meetings has been spotty. Nearly half the board is absent at any given time, and Commissioner Rob Williamson, who serves on the board, has not attended meetings since January. When the board is at full capacity there are eight members.

Meetings, which are held twice every other month, have been seeing an average of four members in attendance, with sometimes as few as three.

The council’s numbers have shifted enough in recent months that at times there was uncertainty as to whether a quorum present. The previous committee meeting was discovered to be lacking a quorum, but that was deemed acceptable because no votes were taken.

Council member Kyle Holley said he was worried by the attendance issue.

“I don’t want to reach a point at which we are at risk of losing performance of this board because of attendance,” he said.

And the council is not at full capacity. Norm Crowder vacated his seat on the board in March. That position, which is set aside for a bed tax collector in the southern part of the county, was advertised, but no one has applied. Council members are volunteers who are not paid for their work on the advisory board.

Tourism Development Director Julie Morgan said her office had initially hoped that a representative from the new Springhill Suites by Marriott would step into the vacancy, but General Manager Kristen Iversen and Director of Sales Angie Lee do not meet the minimum qualifications to be on the board because they live outside the county.

The Marriott is expected to boost bed tax collections considerably in the coming months, but the delayed opening of the hotel has likely limited its initial impact.

“We need their input whether they are on the board or not,” Morgan said.

Florida statute requires that all members of the council be registered voters residing within the district that they represent. It also requires that six members of the board be individuals involved in the tourism industry. Beyond that, at least three and no more than four must be bed tax collectors. This means they must own or operate a hotel, RV park, motel or similar accommodation where bed taxes would be applied to those staying.

Santa Rosa County has added an additional stipulation requiring that certain bed tax collector seats be set aside for members from the northern and southern parts of the county to ensure equitable representation based on collection totals.

To further complicate the issue, board member April Sarver announced that she will be resigning from the panel as well because she is moving to Okaloosa County. This will leave yet another slot on the board for a bed tax collector from the south end.

Despite the lack of interest, Morgan said she expects to find a replacement. She suggested that someone from Days Inn and Suites of Navarre could be a likely candidate. Sarver said someone within Resort Quest by Wyndam will likely step up to fill her shoes.

In other TDC action, the four board members who did attend the May meeting were presented with the county’s final tourism advertising product.

Tom Merrick, chief creative officer for tourism marketing firm Paradise Advertising, presented the group with the photographs and videos taken at Santa Rosa County’s tourist destinations.

The images showcased a sunset on the beach, children playing in the surf of the Gulf of Mexico, a tubing trip down the Blackwater River and a family toasting s’mores at a campsite.

The materials — presented in print, billboard, digital and video format — all ran under the header Navarre Beach with the tag line “Florida’s most relaxing place.”  The information is linked to getrelaxing.com, the landing page for Santa Rosa tourism while the website is still under construction.

The board was complimentary of the company’s efforts.

The TDC was also presented with a marketing plan that outlined the goals and methods being used behind the scenes to promote the county as a vacation destination. This effort included social media postings, circulation of the new advertising materials and interactions with people working in the news and travel media.

One task Paradise will be taking on is turning the county’s current brochure materials into a cohesive visitors’ guide. Morgan said these materials have been too scattered and need to be consolidated. The proposed booklet would showcase the highlights of the destination, Morgan said, without any advertisements.


As seen in the June 8 issue of Navarre Press. Subscribe online at navarrepress.com for as little as $38 per year.

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