BY JAMES HARPER
Volusia County’s advertising authorities should do more research to attract African-Americans tourists, says a marketing expert hired to analyze the effectiveness of tourism marketing in the area.
An independent analysis of the marketing done by local advertising authorities found their efforts mainly attracts Whites with a small number of Asians and African-Americans to the county’s hotels.
The three advertising authorities – Halifax Area Advertising Authority, Southeast Volusia Advertising Authority and West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority – were established by a Volusia County ordinance and Florida law to bring visitors to the area.
Workshop in March
The Volusia County Council hosted a presentation of the countywide study on Jan. 28 at the Ocean Center.
Dan Fenton of Strategic Advisory Group (SAG) out of Duluth, Ga., the firm the county selected in November 2011 to do the study, provided an overview of preliminary outcomes.
A public workshop is planned March 8 at the Ocean Center to take all of the recommendations from the study and review them in a working session with the Volusia County Council.
Fenton said the purpose of the workshop will be to work with the county’s leaders to transform how they approach tourism in the future – “how you grow new markets and cultivate markets that don’t exist today.”
150 people interviewed
Fenton said strategically growing a market “grows job creation and increases spending by tourists.”
He conducted interviews with more than 150 people and received communications from many others.
In an interview with the Daytona Times this week, Fenton said that if a plan is developed to attract African-Americans, “it can’t be done generically.’’
Fenton said the advertising authorities should research where the opportunities are and then create specific messages and content that would be of interest to groups such as African-Americans.
Marketing campaigns should be research-driven, said Fenton.
“It may be more effective to do research and understand the need and interest of the African-American market,” he noted.
Fenton said Blacks want to know there is active support for the African-American community before they come to an area.
“They want to understand what are the dynamics of the community – that there is a welcoming environment for them,” Fenton continued.
More than generic ads needed
Of the 150 people he talked to, Fenton didn’t think there were any negative reasons why there has been a lack of research on how to attract more African-Americans effectively.
Generic advertising may not resonate with certain segments of the population the county wants to attract.
“You just don’t send an ad out that says just come to the beach. What we are suggesting is understand what they (tourists) are looking for, not just the beach.
Any family has to have something presented to them that say we are going to have fun,” Fenton explained.
Wagner: Include B-CU, trail
During SAG’s interviews, there was a wide range of opinions of who the “target customer” is for Volusia County.
Volusia County Councilman Joshua Wagner said in an interview Tuesday that he has noticed local advertising has done a better job at promoting diversity.
“Our brand needs to include and celebrate diversity. Our marketing should reflect who we are as a community and not just a cookie cutter version of the 1960s,” Wagner said.
“Bethune-Cookman University, the Daytona Beach Black History Trail, as well as many other minority cultural assets are amazing community gems that need to be included in all conversations regarding tourism,” Wagner explained.
Conclusions of study
Jeffrey Hentz is the CEO/president of the Daytona Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB), which is funded by the Halifax Area Advertising Authority.
“Our destination attracts visitors from all market segments of the mass market and the CVB will continue to strive to incorporate and integrate the diversity of the mass market into our present and future marketing efforts,” Hentz told the Daytona Times this week.
The study by Fenton’s group concluded that:
• Marketing efforts need focus.
• There is lack of research.
• Marketing decisions are opinion, not research-based.
• There is a lack of functional support for smaller authorities.
• There is a lack of leverage – collaboration with partners.
• Economic development efforts aren’t focused on tourism.
• An underperforming, poorly functioning group sales effort exists.
• There is an underperforming sports sales effort.
• There’s a declining tourism product.
Promoting the ‘beach experience’
The study recommended there are strategic advantages to promoting all of Volusia County in a manner that maximizes the considerable and ongoing investment in the “Daytona” brand and its proximity to the Orlando region, the world’s No. 1 tourist destination.
It also was noted that the beaches of Volusia County are very popular tourist attractions and there should be a continuous strong focus on improving the quality of the “beach experience.”
Another strength that can differentiate Volusia County as a destination is the opportunity that exists to enhance a visitor’s experience. This includes cycling, fishing, birding, eco-tourism and special events.
No unified countywide plan
SAG reviewed the marketing plans of the three advertising authorities and met with internal staff members.
“There is no unified countywide plan to support the improvement of the tourism product, notably the beachside of Daytona Beach. There needs to be a concerted effort involving county, city, and business leadership to upgrade the beachside of Daytona Beach. This is a significant weakness in remaining competitive as a destination,” the study noted.
The study also pointed out that promoting Southeast Volusia, and especially West Volusia, with existing advertising resources is, at best, a formidable marketing challenge.
A declining level of visitors in a slowly improving economy, coupled with a tourism experience that needs investment, was the impetus that led the Volusia County Council to commission this project.
It will take a concerted effort and political and civic leadership to make some of the changes recommended in this report, according to the study.
The structure of three independent advertising authorities was reviewed in this study. SAG met with the executive directors and staffs of each to understand their operations. The concept of a singular tourism marketing organization warrants ongoing consideration.
The current structure of three tourism authorities promotes regional thinking as opposed to maximizing the county’s overall tourism strengths.
The stakeholders expressed concern over the current condition of the tourism “product,” notably the beach side of Daytona Beach.
The analysis indicates that Volusia County is funded at a level that is below comparable key competitors.
The review of available marketing funds indicates an opportunity to determine alternate funding opportunities and the need to direct more overall bed tax revenue to tourism marketing.
The advertising authorities are funded by a bed tax paid by tourists who stay in the county’s hotels.