CLEARWATER — D.T. Minich spent seven years modernizing and honing Pinellas County's tourism efforts. He also helped the industry rebound from recession and the 2010 BP oil spill to attract a record numbers of visitors and bed tax dollars to the county.
But now he's moving on. Minich, the CEO and executive director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater (VSPC) – Pinellas County's convention and visitors bureau – will leave next month to take the same position with Experience Kissimmee, the tourism arm of Osceola County.
Minich said he was recruited by a national headhunting firm and hired to lead a revamped Experience Kissimmee agency. The Osceola County Commission is converting its tourism agency from a public agency to a public/private hybrid, like the Hillsborough County tourism agency Visit Tampa Bay. The Pinellas tourism agency is completely public.
"I think this is something that is a neat challenge and a great opportunity," Minich said. "There's not many bureaus the size of Kissimmee that have gone through a conversion like this.
"It's almost like we're going to be creating something new and different from a bureau standpoint and I'm just really looking forward to that kind of opportunity. It's very unique."
Minich, 50, has spent two decades of his career marketing Florida's beaches, first in Lee County and then in Pinellas County. But in Experience Kissimmee, he'll be leading an agency that markets its own attractions in conjunction with Orlando's theme parks.
"I've done beaches my whole life," he said. "I'm looking for a change and I think it's got huge potential. I think it's a great move for myself."
Minich's current salary was $164,444. According to Experience Kissimmee, his salary, benefits and incentives will total "more than $200,000" but the agency did not release the specific figure.
Pinellas County Commission Chair Karen Seel, who sits on the Tourist Development Council that oversees VSPC, said Minich told her that he was leaving last week. Seel said better compensation and a new challenge figured into Minich's decision. Seel said she didn't make a counter-offer because Minich told her he was already leaving.
"I think he's been an enormous leader," Seel said. "He's been very innovative, looking at the trends and markets, establishing a wonderful marketing and advertising plan, dealing with all the crises that we had over the last few years and emerging as we have with a more diversified tourist base."
Minich was appointed in 2007 as the executive director of the Pinellas County Convention and Visitor's Bureau, also known as a CVB in the business. The agency is Pinellas' publicly-funded tourism arm dedicated to using bed tax dollars to market and promote the area to visitors. One of his first key moves was to rename the agency to more specifically market the Pinellas beaches: it became known as Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, or VSPC, in 2008.
For the past three years, Pinellas has logged record numbers of visitors and tourist tax collections. The most recent record was set in 2013, when the county had 5,579,900 overnight visitors. That was an increase of 2.6 percent, or 144,900 more visitors than the previous record year in 2012. The county also collected a record $31.8 million in tourist development taxes in 2013. That's the 5 percent surcharge added onto the bill of every hotel and short-term accommodation, and is considered the most accurate barometer of the local tourism industry.
By collecting more than $30 million in bed taxes for the first time in county history, Pinellas became Florida's sixth "high tourism impact" county in 2013. Pinellas joined Broward, Monroe, Orange, Osceola and Walton counties.
Under Minich, Pinellas started to partner up with Hillsborough County economic development agencies across the bay. VSPC has become one of the key monetary boosters of Tampa International Airport's efforts to attract new routes to Switzerland and Panama. Not only has Pinellas increased its share of European visitors, but has also started cultivating Latin American and Chinese tourists.
Minich's last day on the job in Pinellas will be Aug. 15. His first day in the new job is set for Aug. 18.
Contact Jamal Thalji at email@example.com or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.