110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
DeLand attraction trumps The Mouse
TripAdvisor names Stetson Mansion most popular in Florida
posted Jun 6, 2014 - 2:38:23pm
Edging out Key West, Walt Disney World and Kennedy Space Center, the relatively tiny Stetson Mansion in DeLand has been named Florida’s No. 1 most-popular tourist attraction by TripAdvisor.
The ranking is based, not on visitor numbers or revenue, but on the “quantity, quality and recency” of visitor reviews posted on the mammoth travel website.
“The TripAdvisor Popularity Index is a proprietary algorithm that incorporates traveler ratings to determine overall traveler satisfaction, taking into account the more than 150 million reviews and opinions from travelers,” TripAdvisor spokeswoman Erin Millard said.
The Popularity Index rankings were announced by Parade magazine, not by TripAdvisor, based on a partnership between the two companies, Millard explained.
TripAdvisor claims the top spot among international travel websites, with nearly 260 million unique visitors a month.
“Has anyone at Parade heard of Disney World?” one commenter asked.
TripAdvisor, however, notes that the Popularity Index measures different qualities than are measured by other tools that might naturally put larger or better-known tourist attractions on top.
“The TripAdvisor Popularity Index incorporates traveler ratings to determine overall traveler satisfaction. Unlike sites that simply rank a hotel by price or hotel class, we use a proprietary algorithm to take into account what real travelers like you think,” the company’s website states.
According to TripAdvisor.com, the Popularity Index rankings are:
• Pure: Completely organic. No paid results influence rankings.
• Fresh: Constantly incorporate new information.
• Global: Reflect reviews from around the world.
• Unbiased: Based on the good and the bad!
Other venues tapped as their state’s “Most Popular Tourist Attractions” on the 2014 list include Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, Congregation Mickve Israel in Georgia, Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail in Tennessee, and Pacific Coast Highway Route 1 in California.
The ranking thrilled mansion co-owner JT Thompson.
“I’m a poor kid from the projects in Newark, New Jersey. We now have the No. 1 Florida attraction, right here in DeLand. This little city beat out Disney,” an ecstatic Thompson said.
He said he discovered the honor by accident, while searching Google to see what was being posted online about the mansion. He stumbled on a map of the United States published by Parade magazine May 24. Each state’s No. 1 attraction is shown, and just two words — Stetson Mansion — are emblazoned across Florida’s peninsula.
Thompson said he at first couldn’t believe it, then let out a whoop of delight.
“I sounded like a 7-year-old girl,” Thompson said. “I’m running around the mansion.”
Thompson and his partner, Michael Solari, have been working since 2005 to meticulously restore and preserve the rambling 1886 former home of university benefactor John B. Stetson. They live at the mansion, and operate the landmark as a tourist attraction.
Just outside DeLand’s western city limits at 1071 Camphor Lane, the mansion has thousands of visitors per year. They range from couples who marry on its gracious grounds, to groups of schoolchildren and senior citizens, and even quilters who come to see the intricate, original wood floors whose designs are based on traditional quilt patterns.
Since the Parade story was published, Thompson said he has been contacted by callers from Disney World, Sea World and Kennedy Space Center, all of whom offered congratulations and wanted to know “How did you do it?”
“We did it the old-fashioned way,” Thompson said. “We did it with excellent customer services, referrals and word of mouth. We’ve been five-star on TripAdvisor since Day One.”
There’s a little new technology mixed into the mansion marketing plan, as well. Thompson said Stetson Mansion’s outreach on the social-networking website Facebook increased by 400 percent in the days following the Parade announcement.
The possibilities of eyes all over the world being directed to a DeLand tourist attraction was exciting, as well, for DeLand’s mayor and the director of West Volusia’s Tourism Advertising Authority.
“This is the most spectacular accolade ever,” said Renee Wente-Tallevast, who leads the tourism agency. “We’ve always known that West Volusia is so special; that it contains the essence of Old Florida and so many hidden treasures … ”
Thompson interrupted to finish her sentence. “Now with this spotlight, the rest of the world has the opportunity to experience what makes us unique.”
DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar was also pleased to have another feather in the cap of the city’s that has captured numerous statewide awards for its Downtown restoration, and was just named Central Florida’s “other” best Downtown in an Orlando Sentinel online contest a few months ago.
“It’s big for all of West Volusia,” Apgar said. “With the emphasis on eco-tourism, and history. … This is another spotlight.”
Thompson said he doesn’t consider the TripAdvisor ranking a coup for the mansion alone, but for the surrounding area, as well.
“I am so excited for Volusia County,” he said. “It’s great for Central Florida, but it’s Volusia County — it’s West Volusia tourism.”
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