Tourism as an economic engine was the topic of discussion in Perdido Key on Thursday, as Visit Pensacola hosted the second and third community dialogue sessions of its Destination 2020 initiative.
More than 50 people attended the two discussions, made up of small and large group interactions aimed at generating ideas for improving Pensacola as a community. As the community improves, organizers said, residents are happier, tourism draws more visitors and ultimately businesses re-locate here.
“You are growing responsibly so it doesn’t take away from what you are,” said Steve Hayes, president of Visit Pensacola. The area’s appeal, he said, comes from its various offerings. “We are a historical, business, military, cultural, and beach community. You add all that up and that makes us different.”
In May, Visit Pensacola will release a five-year strategic plan based on information gathered from these conversations, as well as from surveys, interviews, industry experts, model community case studies and local tourism data.
The profile of an ideal visitor, Hayes said, might start with a six- or seven-day trip. Shortly thereafter, a vacation home is purchased, thus increasing the tax base. The new part-time resident speaks with friends and family back home, prompting the eventual re-location of a business which grows the fabric of the local economy.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who moved their business somewhere that they hadn’t been to before,” Hayes said.
In groups and in one-on-one discussions, participants discuss why they live in the community, list suggested strategic initiatives and identify opportunities for “revving up” tourism as an economic engine. They were encouraged to adopt cathedral thinking and to not limit the size or creativity of their ideas. The concept gets its name from the architects and artisans who started the initial work on medieval cathedrals knowing they would not see the buildings completed in their lifetimes.
Participants included concerned citizens, small business owners, real estate professionals and tourism industry representatives. Ideas shared during the large group discussion included developing larger entertainment events like music festivals, starting a trolley that takes visitors from Perdido Key to Pensacola Beach, and promoting attractions of the area’s off season during the summer high season.
“I love it when people say they want change,” said Tina Morrison, president of the Perdido Key Chamber of Commerce, “and then they come to participate in that change.”
D.B. Waltrip of Innerarity attended with her 11- and 13-year-old sons, Wil and Andrew, who wore their Boy Scout Troop 3 uniforms and are in pursuit of their Citizenship in Community merit badges.
“We need to get to the root level,” Waltrip said. “There are a lot of problems that need to be solved so that we can build strong from the bottom up.”
Participants are sought for future dialogue sessions Feb. 2 in Pensacola Beach and Feb. 3 in downtown Pensacola. Visit Destination2020.org for more information and to sign up.
Carlos Gieseken, pnj.com
January 23, 2015