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West Volusia tourism rises dramatically
By Al Everson
posted Jun 4, 2014 - 8:22:50pm
A surge in tourism in West Volusia has created a 30 percent budget boost for the West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority.
Figures released by Volusia County show the West Volusia ad agency stands to receive a six-figure increase in its budget, from the current year’s $321,707, to a proposed $426,213 for 2014-15.
The money comes from taxes paid on hotel and motel stays, campground stays, and other short-term rentals, and is spent to lure visitors to the western half of the county.
The increase, based on a rise in current lodging-tax income, is a welcome return to days of better economic health, the tourism agency’s director said.
"This is not a record budget, but it is a healthy budget," Renee Tallevast-Wente said.
Tallevast-Wente said the agency's record budget was approximately $470,000, some time before 2007, when the recession began.
Increases were countywide, but none as sharp as in West Volusia. The Southeast Volusia Advertising Authority budget increased 17.4 percent, from this year’s $1.38 million to a projected $1.62 million for 2014-15. The Halifax Advertising Authority’s budget is projected to jump from $5.9 million to $6.48 million, an increase of a little more than 10 percent.
"Tourism in on the rebound," Volusia County spokesman Dave Byron said. "When the economy went south, those collections went down. … Collections are up countywide, not just in West Volusia. The state of Florida is on pace to have a record year."
What is responsible for West Volusia’s meteoric rise?
"Savvy advertising and marketing. We do a lot of social-media marketing," Tallevast-Wente said. "There's a lot going on in West Volusia, period. You have Stetson football. Our years of marketing and advertising are paying off."
Volusia County Community Information Director Dave Byron described how the tourism-promotion agency's new budget was developed.
"It's based on collections within the district," Byron told The Beacon. "It's not an arbitrary figure; it's based on tax collections."
The county levies two extra taxes on lodging bills, a 3-percent tax that funds advertising of local attractions, events, activities and destinations in West Volusia, and a 3-percent tax to help pay for the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach. Lodging taxes collected in the Halifax area in East Volusia and in Southeast Volusia go to tourism advertising authorities in those areas.
Tourists also pay 6.5-percent sales tax on lodging bills, for a total of 12.5 cents per dollar on hotel or motel bills or other short-term stays.
Tourism becomes a sort of self-propelled economic engine, in that the tourism taxes fund advertising and promotions that draw visitors, who in turn pay more tourism taxes and also sales taxes on their leisure expenses for lodging, restaurant tabs, attraction admissions, souvenirs and other goods and services.
Tallevast-Wente said the West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority carefully targets its ads.
"We know a lot of our visitors come from Florida. Age demographics mean we advertise in the AAA and AARP magazines," she said. "We do a lot of Canadian advertising. We like to have a presence in Canada. We do a lot of Google ads."
As for the marketing in Canada, Tallevast-Wente said her agency does extensive advertising in magazines circulated in Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, and the ads welcome both summer vacationers and older couples seeking relief from the harsh northern winters.
"Canadians are the No. 1 international visitors to Florida, and they'll continue to be the number-one visitors to Volusia County," Byron said.
The British are coming, too.
"We do hit the British people, like when they fly into Sanford-Orlando International Airport and go to, like, Alamo, and rent a car," said Tallevast-Wente.
The budgets of each of Volusia County's three tourism-advertising districts must be approved by the County Council. Final approval usually comes in September, in conjunction with the adoption of the county's overall spending and taxation measures. The county's new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
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