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Tourism council holds first meeting with new members, discusses trolley

Apr 10th, 2014 | 0

By DOTTY NIST
The Walton County Tourist Development Council’s (TDC) April 1 meeting was the first for newly-appointed members Gary Brielmayer, Kurt Tape, Jennifer Frost, Jim Richard, and Art Miller.
The meeting was held at the WaterColor Inn and was preceded by a morning strategic planning session.
Officers were elected to a number of vacant positions on the council. Meadows was chosen a vice chair, Frost as secretary, and Miller as treasurer. Richard was selected as council person for the Marketing Committee and Tape as council person for the Destination Improvements Committee.
The members voted in favor of exercising a one-year extension on the contract with Seahaven Consulting as beach management consultant. A 2014-15 coop advertising plan was presented and received approval, as well, after some discussion.
TDC action items are subject to final consideration by the county commission.
John Finch of Sunshine Shuttle made an enthusiastic presentation seeking the participation of the TDC with the 30A Trolley program, which he announced would be kicking off in the summer.
“It’s all about keeping the traffic moving and really changing the culture of south Walton,” he said.
Finch said everyone’s first question about the trolley program is “Is the TDC participating?”
That participation was being sought in the form of advertising on the trolley. Prices were provided for advertising on all four sides of the trolley ($120,000), or for a full side and front or back ($75,000).
Finch invited the council members to “brand South Walton in the most unique way” by using the trolley as mobile billboard.
In response to a question, Finch said the trolley program will be self-funding through a combination of advertising sales and local businesses pitching in to fund the program.
Currently the use of only one vehicle is planned, and the route is to extend between Gulf Place and the WaterColor Publix along CR-30A and portions of CR-395 and CR-393 south of U.S. 98. Finch said the trolley is to hit stops along the route every hour or less—and that an app has been set up to let riders know the exact time when it will arrive at each stop.
TDC member/District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows anticipated that there would be criticism from the community if the TDC opted to spend $120,000 for advertising on the vehicle, particularly since the trolley would be serving only CR-30A, and a limited area at that.
Finch responded that it is necessary to “start somewhere” with a new program such as this. “It grows organically,” he noted.
Meadows observed that the program is a private enterprise as currently being proposed. She said that what she hears from the public is that, as such, it should be funded by private enterprise. She suggested that organizers obtain buy-in from local businesses, run the program for the summer and then return to the TDC with their request.
Jon Ervin, TDC director of marketing and communications, commented that purchasing advertising on the trolley would represent a change in mission for the TDC. He explained that the organization’s practice has been to deploy advertising dollars outside the local area in order to draw visitors. “We’ve never been in the position of advertising to consumers who are in south Walton,” Ervin explained.
Clay Adkinson, TDC attorney, chimed in that, in order for such an expenditure to meet state statute, it would be necessary for the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) to make a legislative finding that it would serve the purpose of “attracting tourists.”
The members voted to send the proposal to the marketing committee for research and a recommendation.
In other action, the council members looked at logo options that had been recommended by the marketing committee for their review. The logo designs had been provided by TDC advertising agency Zehnder Communications. There has been a focus on arriving at a logo that is more easily read, but the marketing committee chose to go beyond that goal in its task.
The three umbrellas that had been featured for many years prior to the current logo made a return in some of the new designs. An Adirondack chair was incorporated in some of the options, as well as the tagline “Find your perfect beach” arranged in a smile configuration.
After viewing the various options, the council members provided input to be conveyed to the marketing committee, which will continue its efforts toward proposing a revised logo.
Brad Pickel of Seahaven, TDC beach management consultant, provided an update on the planned Walton County Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project (countywide beach nourishment project). Pickel announced that the permit application for the project would be submitted this month. Pickel said another important task for the project, obtaining federal authorization through Congress, was ongoing. He expects that to be wrapped up in May. The cost of the project is to be paid through a combination of federal, state, and TDC funds.
Pickel told the group that language has been completely revised for the easements that will be sought from beachfront property owners in order for the project to be constructed, based on input from the public, the TDC and county attorneys.
Workshops on the project are being held every other month, with the next to take place in June. More information is available on the web site www.protectwaltoncountybeaches. com.
Jim Bagby, TDC executive director, described efforts to define “who’s our customer?” He reported asking for and obtaining information from bed tax collectors in order to gauge what areas visitors come from. “I wanted to see where we were underperforming,” he said.
Bagby said he had concluded that the Dallas/Fort Worth area was the number one area where the TDC was underperforming with its promotional efforts, followed by Houston.
Bagby reminded the members of the TDC’s target demographics, the primary one being households with people from 35 to 64 years of age with household income of $175,000 per year or more. The organization’s secondary demographic is households with people over 65 years of age with household income of over $1 million per year.
Bagby announced that the information gathered from the bed tax collectors would be available on the TDC web site beginning on April 20.
A grand reopening of the newly remodeled TDC Visitor Center and Office is scheduled for 2 p.m. on May 13, and the next TDC meeting is scheduled for June 3. Details on TDC and TDC committee meetings are posted on the web site www.visitsouthwalton.org.

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