BROOKSVILLE — During the past year, a record 89.3 million visitors arrived in Florida, stayed in hotels and motels, visited attractions and spent lots of cash while they were here. Hernando County, it seems, got a fairly sizable slice of the action.
In a report to county commissioners Tuesday, Hernando tourism coordinator Tammy Heon said that the 12-month period that ended in May saw the county collect 9.7 percent more in tourism tax revenue than it did during the previous 12-month period.
While special events such as the Brooksville Cycling Classic, the Chinsegut Bird and Wildlife Festival and the Florida Blueberry Festival continue to draw impressive numbers of new visitors to the area, Heon credited the uptick to an effort to market the county more aggressively throughout the state, as well as beyond its borders.
Overall, the numbers show a steadily improving picture for a vital county industry that has seen its share of tumbles since the economic downturn began in 2007. According to Heon, year-to-date revenue for fiscal year 2012-13 totals $223,347.11, and the total tourist development tax revenue collected during the March/April reporting period was $47,956.18, compared to $46,266.77 for the prior year.
The revenue is used to market the county to tourists and support events that draw visitors to Hernando.
Heon said that despite the cancellation of the Florida Classic Clusters dog show in January, bed tax revenue was up slightly, leaving her to believe that the brightening tourism picture is due to the steadily improving economy and rising consumer confidence, plus a more earnest approach to lure out-of-state visitors through social media sites such as Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube.
"We're working harder and harder to get the word out to people of the unique experiences our county has that are worth checking out while they're in Florida," Heon said.
According to Heon, ecotourism activities such as hiking, bicycling, canoeing and kayaking, as well as special events, continue to be the driving force in bringing visitors to Hernando who are apt to stay overnight. According Tourist Development Council figures, the cycling classic, which was held last October in downtown Brooksville, brought about 4,000 attendees who accounted for more than 90 motel and hotel room nights during the weekend.
Heon told commissioners that the Tourist Development Council's newly redesigned website continues to be one of her department's most powerful tools. The new design, which offers improved graphics and navigational features — as well as more prominent links to information about activities such as fishing, scalloping, birding, hiking and paddling — also provides a launching spot for the agency's social media functions.
"These are the kinds of tools that are making us competitive in the tourism marketplace," Heon said. "We're about 85 percent of where we want to be content-wise, and we're going to keep building until we get where we want to be."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.