Visit Pensacola recently kicked off “Destination 2020” -- a four-month strategic planning course, on the future of local tourism.
More than 150 people attended the opening session, the first of a half-dozen community-based meetings in Pensacola, Perdido Key and Pensacola Beach this month and in February.
Steve Hayes, President and CEO of Visit Pensacola, says each session will provide an opportunity for the public to weigh in on the future of local tourism marketing. For now, says Hayes, the biggest challenge is making things better for visitors.
“Whether it’s signage, transportation, how they’re made to feel welcome,” said Hayes. “So we want to make sure, not only do we live up to expectations, but we exceed them.”
Participants in Friday's meeting came from across the region, representing many areas of tourist experience: hospitality, retail, real estate, historic and cultural groups, government, and neighborhood associations. Hayes says the idea is to use tourism as an economic development tool – which in turn gets the community involved.
Another area deals with visitors to the more common attractions such as beaches, hotels and restaurants. Visit Pensacola’s message is: If you come for those, then stay for other attractions such as arts, sports, culture and history, and downtown.
Another potentially lucrative tourism sector is the gay and lesbian community, now that same-sex marriage is legal in Florida. Hayes says they’re looking towards the statewide tourism group Visit Florida for such opportunities.
According to the Williams Institute -- an LGBT think-tank at UCLA – gay weddings and related events and visitors could generate an extra $180 million per year in Florida.
The bottom line, says Visit Pensacola’s Steve Hayes, is to present the western Panhandle as an ideal place to live. According to Hayes, roughly one-third of those who come here do so to visit friends and family.
Information on the upcoming sessions may be found at www.Destination2020.org.