Businesses: Boost Ocean Center
Volusia looking at marketing study
WILL HOBSON - STAFF WRITER
February 4, 2011; Page 01C
DELAND -- DELAND - Employees of beachside businesses near the Ocean Center showed up in force Thursday to tell the Volusia County Council that marketing efforts are not working, the Ocean Center and the region's tourism industry as a whole are underperforming, and something needs to be done as soon as possible.
That something, for now, is a study on the success, or lack thereof, of the county's tourism and convention marketing efforts. The council voted Thursday to give county staff two weeks to get input from local hoteliers and advertising officials and come to the Feb. 17 meeting with a proposed scope for the study.
There are no sacred cows, multiple council members said, and they're open to any suggestion a consultant might have for how to fill the county-owned convention center year-round. Unless that consultant suggests hiring a private company to run the Ocean Center, an idea that spurred a lengthy debate.
There was no talk of the study's cost Thursday, but to the two dozen or so employees of the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort and other businesses close to the Ocean Center, no cost is too high to ensure the Ocean Center's success.
"We need to have that Ocean Center properly marketed, properly funded, and have it be that sparkplug that it needs to be," said Doug Daniels, an attorney who represents the Hilton.
"We're suffering. It's tough over there. Our hours are being cut . . . The staff is operating on a bare minimum just to serve our guests," said Greta Patterson, assistant controller with the Hilton.
"Our tugboat is taking on water, and if we don't figure out a way to get the tide to rise, all our boats will sink," said Deana Gamerro, senior sales manager with Bubba Gump Shrimp and Mai Tai Bar.
Left unsaid was where the extra money would come from for the Ocean Center's marketing budget. An influx of $350,000 in unanticipated tourism-tax dollars - approved Thursday by the council - helped a little, taking the budget to about $635,000 for 2011. But some local hoteliers have voiced concern that the county would tap the tourism-tax dollars that flow through the Halifax Area Advertising Authority - about $5.4 million for 2011.
"Obviously we can always do things better," Larry Fornari, Halifax authority board chairman, told the council. Fornari said his authority plans to spend more than $600,000 this year on selling the Ocean Center.
"I am concerned that if we continue to erode the dollars away from the general tourism marketing efforts and spend it on (conventions and meetings), that we will see a further erosion of tax collections," he said.
Gary Brown, who runs the Sun Viking Lodge in Daytona Beach, was more direct than Fornari. He criticized the county for not budgeting into the $80-plus million expansion of the Ocean Center, which finished in 2009, for a similarly expanded marketing budget.
"I'm speaking for the other 300 hotels who couldn't afford to send their employees here," said Brown, whose hotel is about three miles south of the Ocean Center. "In the 40 years I've been in business, I can count on this hand all the business I've had from the Ocean Center."
While the council members unanimously agreed the study is needed, and quickly, the suggestion that a consultant even consider the pros and cons of a private company managing the Ocean Center elicited vehement objections from County Manager Jim Dinneen, Councilwoman Pat Northey and others.
Tim Stockman, vice president of Inner Circle Management, made the suggestion.
Dinneen called the idea a "giant mistake," and said the county is running the Ocean Center as efficiently as possible. Dinneen later clarified that he'd be open to the idea of a private company taking over the facility's marketing, but Stockman said after the meeting private companies won't just run the marketing; they'll either run the entire facility or nothing.
"I don't know why you wouldn't want to have all the information in place, before you make a decision on the future of such an expensive facility," said a frustrated Stockman after he was told the council didn't want to consider private management.
"For the taxpayer's sake, you (council members) would have to answer to them, did you consider every avenue?"
Daytona Beach attorney, Doug Daniels, has been admitted into Leadership Florida, an organization founded by... Read More...
The recovery from this recession is likely to prove uneven, with those areas prepared for the future recovering first and the rest... Read More...
Is it finally time to drill for oil on... Read More...