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Business Outlook 2006

Playing up a relaxing change of vacation pace

Selling itself as an outdoors haven as well as a place to get away, Hernando sees tourism revenue on the rise.

Published February 19, 2006

When you're trying to get folks to visit your area, you naturally want to tout the things that make it unique. For places like Daytona Beach and Miami, it's the lure of sunny, oceanfront playgrounds. For Orlando, theme parks are the draw.

For the past couple of years, Hernando County's tourism bureau has been targeting those looking for something different and wanting to escape the big city bustle and relax in a laid-back community surrounded by nature's beauty. So far, the effort has been paying off with increased tourist revenues and an ever-growing reputation among baby boomers that the county is a nice place to get away from it all.

"We've done well in attracting people whose lives have slowed down a bit," said Hernando tourism coordinator Sue Rupe. "The Florida that they used to visit with their children isn't necessarily the place they want to visit once their kids have grown up. They're looking for more quality things to do by themselves such as hiking, biking, canoeing and fishing, and we're getting more known as the place that provides that."

Last year, Rupe's office spent $7,000 of its $100,000 advertising budget targeting boomer-age visitors through magazines such as Family Circle, Ladies' Home Journal and Good Housekeeping. The campaign, which was done through an advertising firm, put full-page ads in subscriber issues in several key areas around the country, including Sarasota, Orlando and New York.

"We felt it was worth the effort because people tend to keep magazines laying around, giving our ads more exposure," Rupe said. "Plus, it was well within our price range."

According to annual figures released in September, tourist revenue had climbed to $53-million, about $10-million more than the year before.

Rupe said finding ways of effectively targeting specific groups will be a priority in the coming years. Plans include mailings to outdoor sporting enthusiasts and ecotourism interests such as trail bike, hiking and kayaking groups.

Another thing on Rupe's to-do list is to complete the reverse-inquiry study that was initiated in 2004. The project, which involves data collected from area visitors as to what drew them to the area and their impressions of their stay, was put on the back burner because of staffing limitations. Rupe hopes to hire an intern from Pasco-Hernando Community College this summer to input the data.

As the county continues to grow, Rupe said tourism is reaping benefits. The construction of three new Holiday Inn Express hotels this year and next and the addition of a Country Inn Suites at Interstate 75 in 2007 will add 200 rooms to the 600 in Hernando that already exist.

"When large hospitality corporations take such an avid interest in an area, it's a good thing," Rupe said. "It shows that they believe in the direction that our community is going in."

[Last modified February 19, 2006, 01:08:19]

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