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As tourism dollars decline, Hernando officials eye 'stay-cations' for Floridians

As the economy suffers, the Hernando County Tourism Bureau is looking to promote "stay-cations," while Weeki Wachee Springs is taking its show on the road.

According to county tourism development director Sue Rupe, tourism tax revenue fell 12 percent last year in Hernando, with typical big draws such as the annual Florida Classic Clusters dog show down in attendance the past couple of years.

"Everybody seems to be down," Rupe said. "I think it's just the economy."

Rupe estimated tourism tax income for the most recent quarter at $74,261. Motel occupancy during the first half of 2008, the most recent figure available, was 57 percent.

With numbers falling and people choosing to forgo vacations, the tourism bureau is trying to find ways to generate business.

"We're going to try to do some campaigns within the state" Rupe said.

The plan includes keeping promotions local, with billboards along Interstate 75 and in the Orlando area. According to Rupe, the idea is to aim for Floridians living in more heavily populated urban areas who are looking for a relaxing weekend and want to enjoy nature.

One of the prime destinations for visitors continues to be Weeki Wachee Springs, which became a state park in November.

Marketing director John Athanason said that while Weeki Wachee has been focused on the transition from private to state ownership, business has remained about the same. Any falloff, he said, probably resulted from last summer's high gas prices.

"People still want to recreate and vacation," Athanason said. "They're being careful with their dollar and looking at places like Weeki Wachee as alternatives."

As far as the park's transition is concerned, Athanason said it's something that is welcome. State ownership left the park with an additional 500 acres, and there is possibility of using that land to provide environmental education to the public, he said.

As another method of promotion, the famous Weeki Wachee mermaids will perform live at the Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tenn., May 1 to 3.

"When we have the opportunity to travel, we can bring Weeki Wachee to them," Athanason said. "It's a win-win situation for everyone."

With the poor state of the economy, tourism officials are doing everything they can to draw visitors to the county.

On a bright note, although attendance at many events has been down, the recent Brooksville Raid Festival drew more visitors than it did in 2008. Rupe and others are looking to events such as the upcoming 16th annual Weeki Wachee Swamp Fest in March and the Florida State Bowling Championship Tournaments, which begin in late April and run through mid July, to further boost the county's tourism.

Fast facts

Explore Hernando

For information on tourism in Hernando County, visit www.naturallyhernando.org or call (352) 754-4405.

As tourism dollars decline, Hernando officials eye 'stay-cations' for Floridians 02/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 21, 2009 12:14pm]
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