By DOTTY NIST
“We far outperformed anyone in northwest Florida and, from what I understand, anyone in the state,” Dawn Moliterno, South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) executive director proclaimed at the TDC’s Oct. 16 annual meeting luncheon.
Attended by business people, county officials and other dignitaries, community members, TDC members and staff, the annual meeting took place at the Sandestin Hilton.
Moliterno said of the rebranding effort initiated by the TDC in 2011, “It worked.”
As evidence, she pointed to 16 straight months of double-digit increases in bed tax revenue.
Moliterno also spoke of another record for the year, that of 115 sea turtle nests on the county’s beaches. “This year shattered all records,” she announced.
South Walton Turtle Watch director Sharon Maxwell and her volunteers were recognized for their hard work in connection with this achievement. Group members walk the beach every morning to mark the nests of these native creatures, and they work to monitor and protect the nests and the hatchlings that emerge from them. The TDC provides sponsorship and financial support for the turtle watch in a partnership effort.
“We are so grateful,” Moliterno told Maxwell.
Moliterno also recognized the TDC’s beach maintenance team, which services 470 trash receptacles each day of the year at the TDC’s 67 public beach, bay and lake accesses and maintains those accesses. The contributions of other TDC staff were highlighted, as well, including marketing, sales, administrative, and visitor center personnel.
Moliterno acknowledged the efforts of Jeff McVay, who enforces beach-related ordinances as the TDC’s code enforcement officer, and TDC Beach Ambassador Chelsea Atkinson, who interacts with beachgoers to welcome them and educate them about these ordinances and the Leave No Trace program.
The TDC contracts with the South Walton Fire District (SWFD) to administer the lifeguard and informational services that are part of the TDC’s beach safety program. Moliterno noted that SWFD lifeguards made more than 200,000 contacts with beachgoers this season and performed almost 15,000 assists.
She also spoke of the TDC’s partnership with the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center, a privately-owned Walton County environmental education facility established by conservationist M.C. Davis on approximately 50,000 acres set aside for preservation and restoration. Previously only open to students and educators, the center is now open to the public at specific times throughout the year due to funding from the TDC as part of the organization’s ecotourism efforts. According to Molitero, approximately 3,800 visitors took the opportunity to see the center and attend programs there over the past year.
She said of the arrangement for Chef Emeril Lagasse to devote an episode of his 2013 Cooking Channel program “Emeril’s Florida” to Walton County, “We are very excited.” She told attendees that the episode will showcase the county and that the chef will be cooking with produce from local organic farms.
Moliterno mentioned regional and national awards received by the TDC in connection with its marketing and public relations efforts, among those three Golden Image Awards from the Florida Public Relations Association, and seven Addy Awards from the American Advertising Foundation.
A total of $370,000 in TDC sponsorship funding has been awarded for local events during the 2012-13 fiscal year.
A TDC alliance with another local partner, the Cultural Arts Alliance, provides for the Bayou Arts Center to serve the public with art worshops and exhibits. Included in that partnership is the Artist of the Year Program. Allison Craft, who uses natural elements such as leather and pearls, was selected as Artist of the Year for 2012.
Announced at the Oct. 16 annual meeting was Artist of the Year for 2013, folk artist Andy Saczynski. Sacynski likes to use recycled materials to transform “junk into funk.”
The new recipient of the Van Ness Butler Jr. Hospitality Award was announced at the meeting, as well. The award was presented to E.O Wilson Biophilia Center founder M.C. Davis and Stella Davis, his wife and partner in conservation.
“It’s humbling to see this broad-based acceptance,” M.C. Davis commented upon accepting the award.
TDC Chairman Scott Brannon was honored for his more than eight years’ service in that capacity. Brannon, who also serves as county commission chairman, will conclude his commission term in November.
Jeff Zehnder of Zehnder Communications, the New Orleans-based company recently selected as advertising agency for the TDC, addressed attendees from the stage.
Zehnder told the gathering that he and his employees are “ecstatic” to be working with the TDC to promote the destination. “South Walton is simply our favorite place on the globe,” he enthused.
Zehnder was very complimentary about the TDC’s use of the word “perfect” in the tagline “Find your perfect beach,”
“Think of your idea of a perfect beach;” he told attendees, “doesn’t it just make you smile?”
Zehnder said the people in his company are big believers in research and in “sustaining and evolving the brand.” They like to talk to consumers and capture people’s stories, he explained.
Zehnder pledged that the advertising his company develops will be authentic to the area, believable, and in keeping with the TDC’s strategic plan. He added that they want to share with the community in striving to preserve and protect the area.
“We’ll work to see that our marketing efforts work in concert with the efforts of each of you,” Zehnder concluded.
“We look forward to an exciting year ahead,” Moliterno responded.