Tammy Heon, Manager of Tourism Development for Hernando County gave a presentation covering grants, local tourism industry statistics and the expansion of the mermaid trail at the December 14th meeting for the Board of County Commissioners.
She began by introducing eight grant awards she was bringing before the commission to be approved. These grants are Tourism Development Committee (TDC) marketing grants for special events. Events range from one of the longest running events in Hernando County, Art in the Park, which will be celebrating its 37th year this year; To a relatively new event, the Central Florida Sportsman Expo. Heon shares, “We had a record of 10 applications for these grants this year, two have since withdrawn due to changes in their business. So, we have awarded these eight grants, totaling $17,500 and we are here for the Commissioner Board to approve those.”
These grants are marketing grants, specifically they are reimbursement grants for advertising. So, those awarded will submit all their advertising expenses with proof of payment after the event is held. They also have to give a report on how their festival/event went and from there they will be reimbursed. A motion was made by Commissioner Narverud and a second by Commission Holcomb. It passed unanimously.
Next, Heon shared some of the Tourism Development’s successes and excitements over the last year. Heon states, “It’s been a strange year around here with tourism, but we have had a good year regardless. We have enjoyed all of the benefits of being an outdoor recreation destination during the pandemic. Some of the things I used to think were a bit of a minus for us were not having a large group business or a large international component to our marketing or visitation. Today it’s a huge plus because we didn’t have any of that to lose and organizations that did lose that type of business are still suffering.”
Heon shared that Hernando County just had a record year of tourism development collections. TDT revenues this year is $1,527,068; Which is up 39.7%. As of October 2021, hotel occupancy is up 28.2% and the average daily rate to date is $95.24, which is up 22.7%. The vacation rental homes are thriving, occupancy is at 73.3% and the average daily rate is $154, which is up 7%. They use Host Compliance software which allows them to track and collect the tourist development taxes from the vacation rental homes. Heon states, “They are contributing a significant amount to our bottom line for the TDC these days and without that revenue we would not be where we are today, after this pandemic.”
Heon was excited to announce they have found an affordable data program for their vacation rental homes, so they have 602 currently available listings, 361 of them are listed on Airbnb, 241 of them on VRBO, there are 10 properties on both sites. With 602 available listings, that will sleep 3,694 people. Approximately 150 of those units are two bedroom properties, 200 have three bedrooms, and there are 2 listed as having 10 or 11 guest rooms. Heon states with this data she will be able to see booking trends and can plan for the future.
Another venture the Tourism Development Bureau undertook as a result of the pandemic is an online Virtual Visitors Center on FloridasAdventureCoast.com. This had a number of cool features to help people plan their trips, like a custom itinerary module that you could then share your trip and your plans on social media sites or email, etc. They hosted six morning show programs including; FOX 13 Good Day Tampa Bay, FOX 35 Morning Show, ABC Action News Morning Show, and CBS Brightside. More than a dozen of their community partners have benefited from that coverage and exposure.
Heon shares that the most exciting project of the next year for her is the Florida Mermaid Trail – Part 2. She states, “We are going to build a trail with 6 feet tall mermaid statues, the cost for upkeep maintenance is also calculated into the cost of the statue. The trail will start at Richloam General Store and will end at Bayport Park; I will put as many statues as I can in between. We are going to work with the arts council to jury for artists to then paint the statues with one of our community business sponsors.”