Tourism update: Jack Wert shares the 'state of the county' on visitors during Marco talk

Jack Wert, Collier County tourism honcho, came to Marco Island Tuesday evening to present a tourism update at the Rose History Auditorium. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

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Jack Wert, Collier County tourism honcho, came to Marco Island Tuesday evening to present a tourism update at the Rose History Auditorium. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

— The state of tourism on Marco Island is strong apparently so strong that Marco Islanders, by and large, feel they don’t need to be concerned about it.

Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau came to the island at the invitation of the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday evening, to present a tourism update. The audience who came to view the presentation, not quite two dozen unless you count Jack, would have filled your average conference room to overflowing, but left plenty of room in the Rose History Auditorium at the Marco Island History Museum.

“The important people are here,” said Wert, who has led the county’s CVB since its inception 11 years ago, when he was the sole staffer. And the audience was a who’s who of Marco business leaders, including Marriott and Hilton general managers Rick Medwedeff and Mac Chaudhry, respectively, MIAAOR president Bette McGilvray, chamber president Nancy Carrington and incoming MIACC president Jacquie Koon.

“How many of you are in the tourism business?” asked Wert, but it was a trick question. “Everybody should raise their hands.” Tourism is the lifeblood of the area, particularly on Marco Island, and its ripple effect is what keeps the cash register ringing, the area’s economy healthy and residents’ taxes low, he said.

Wert shared his report card for the past year, plus the strategies and enticements being used to attract visitors for the current year.

“2013 was our best year ever, coming on top of 2012, which was a record year,” he said. A key reason for the continued success was the reallocation of tourist tax dollars approved by the Board of County Commissioners, which saw the share for marketing climb from 25 percent to 43 percent.

“Our goal was 50 percent, but this is pretty close, and you work with what you have,” he said. The Florida Keys, he said, spend 80 percent of their tourist tax revenue on tourism promotion.

For the first time, tourism spending in Collier County was over $1 billion for 2013, and “bed tax” revenues topped $16 million. Spending from Canadian visitors was up 11.9 percent, and European revenues rose 5.7 percent after a double-digit gain the previous year.

Collier County was named the Golf Destination of the Year by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators, which will carry through 2014, and featured in a popular “100 places to take your children” book. Wert pointed out that Collier has stiff competition from other warm-weather destinations, all with professional tourism operations and substantially larger budgets.

Wert unveiled a new tagline, “Paradise, refined and redefined,” which his office is using in their messages. Some of those go for the jugular; as one example, he showed transit and online advertising running in northern markets that shows the local temperature next to that in Southwest Florida Chicago 8 degrees, Naples 80, for instance. “Picture yourself in paradise” is another repeated theme.

The commercial spots, print ads and online messages, which of course don’t run locally, show sun-soaked, leisure-filled days that do not necessarily reflect the daily life of the working population here, but are very effective in attracting travelers. To a large extent, the TV spots are “zip” and “zap”-proof, with written messages and lingering images. These advertising executions can be seen on the CVB website.

The beach remains the number one drawing card for the area, followed by dining, which again came in ahead of shopping, and eco-tourism and proximity to the Everglades is a big and increasing factor in vacation decisions, a “natural” boost to Marco. Those decisions, Wert pointed out, are made primarily by women, causing the CVB to skew its media selection toward female viewers and readers.

Online advertising is increasingly important, and the county just added a social and digital media coordinator, as well as a leisure travel sales manager, and a second sports marketing specialist, bringing total staffing to 10.5. The half a person, Wert said, represents a position shared with the county’s parks and recreation dept. And he reminded the audience that the actual sales are concluded by each independent hotel or tourism property.

In the Q&A session, Sandra Gougousis raised a point. “It’s ‘me, me, me’ (focusing on individuals and couples) What about families?” she asked. Wert agreed, saying that seasonal messages focus on twosome escapes, while offseason advertising stresses family vacations.

Medwedeff took a moment before the presentation to plug the Marriott’s next ‘town hall’ meeting Jan. 29, when they will once again display their expansion plans, which were endorsed by Wert. At that meeting, Medwedeff noted, complimentary refreshments will be served.

For more information on Collier County tourism visit www.ParadiseCoast.com or call 1-800-688-3600 for visitor information, or 239-252-2384 to reach the local CVB office.

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Comments » 1

ajm3s writes:

" The audience who came to view the presentation, not quite two dozen unless you count Jack, would have filled your average conference room to overflowing...."

Quite a group considering they could have filled an average conference room, for less than 24 people. But yet their voices will roar when the Marriott makes its presentation to expand beyond the agreement signed in 2001. They will be loud and well oiled before the Planning Board on January 29th requesting an amendment to the agreement.

"The beach remains the number one drawing card for the area, followed by dining, which again came in ahead of shopping, and eco-tourism and proximity to the Everglades is a big and increasing factor in vacation decisions, a “natural” boost to Marco."

So why is the Marriott expanding a conference center on the beach that would be better served off island while still maintaining a leisure resort setting on a small tropical island?

Welcome to Marriott Island, an island paradise with an expanded indoor conference center to host a lot of stuff....and we designed 6 loading docks to prove it just to move the stuff around.

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