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Hilton Execs: Ocean Center Key to Future

Hilton Execs: Ocean Center Key to Future

February 2, 2011; Page 01A

The Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort could be at risk if the Ocean Center doesn't bring in more group business, Hilton representatives said Tuesday.

In a meeting with The Daytona Beach News-Journal's editorial board, Hilton General Manager Richard Larkin, Marketing and Sales Director Angela Cameron and attorney Doug Daniels offered their position on the continuing debate about how the Ocean Center markets itself. They said the health of their hotel, and of other hotels and businesses in the core beachside area, depends on the Ocean Center attracting business groups and conventions that return to Daytona Beach each year - and the Ocean Center needs more money to do that effectively.

"As the economy comes back, transient (travel) is not enough," Larkin said. "We think that a solid group base would continue to drive the economy forward."

The Hilton is the latest voice in a debate that will continue Thursday, when the Volusia County Council discusses plans for a study of how public dollars are being divided between selling the Ocean Center and attracting tourists.

Half of the county's bed tax - 3 cents - goes to fund the Ocean Center's operations and debt. The other half funds the three area advertising authorities: Halifax, Southeast Volusia and West Volusia. The Halifax Area Advertising Authority's budget is more than twice that of the other two authorities combined - about $5.4 million for 2011.

It's the Halifax authority's big budget that is being called into question by the proposed study, with the Hilton and others suggesting the board should spend more of its money on future assets and less marketing the region as a whole.

Ocean Center Director Don Poor, who will present the request-for-proposal to the County Council on Thursday, said he thinks the community needs to take a look at all of its assets.

There are assets that bring traffic to Daytona Beach, and future assets that need to be developed, he said.

 "I think the Ocean Center is one of those future assets," he said. "There's so much spent on economic impact for the current assets that we have."

For 2011, the Ocean Center plans to spend about $300,000 on direct, promotional marketing, which doesn't include staffing. The Ocean Center received about $350,000 above that in unexpected bed tax collections at the end of 2010, Poor said - and he'll ask the county to put that money toward marketing.

Hilton representatives say that number is grossly below the budget for other convention centers. Daniels said he believed the budgets for other convention centers, including things like rebates and incentives, were far above the Ocean Center's allocated funds.

"We've never really had a budget adequate enough to go out and see if we can compete," Larkin agreed.

However, both the Tampa Convention Center and Fort Lauderdale Convention Center, which Larkin cited as examples of comparable venues to the Ocean Center, said their budgets were in the same ballpark as what is used for the Ocean Center now.

Eric Blanc, director of sales and marketing for the Tampa Convention Center, said his center receives between $750,000 and $1 million every year in bed taxes, but not all of that goes to marketing. Francine Mason, vice president of communications for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the bureau does most of the local convention center's marketing. She said the marketing budget for the convention center alone, not counting staffing, was about $100,000.

Lori Campbell Baker, director of communications for the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that while marketing the Ocean Center is a priority for the bureau, she feels it is still important to keep the tourists coming. "The balance is the trick," she said. "It's the strength right now in the leisure market that's paying off the bonds for the Ocean Center."

County Chairman Frank Bruno said he is eager to support both the Hilton and the Ocean Center, but also said he doesn't want to overlook leisure tourism. The Ocean Center should certainly be a catalyst for bringing people to the area, he said. Bruno said he supports reviewing how area marketing in general is handled. "Marketing has changed, and we need to look at how we're marketing the Ocean Center and balance that with the needs of all the other tourism in Volusia County," he said.

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