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Hernando County lures RNC visitors with airport, chance to get away

BROOKSVILLE — With the Republican National Convention just a week away, Tampa Bay is poised to make the most of the flood of 50,000 visitors coming to town.

Whether Hernando County will be able to enjoy any of the windfall will depend on how well the county's modest marketing efforts work between now and then.

Hernando County tourism coordinator Tammy Heon said luring convention visitors to the area for recreation will be a tough task because the county isn't officially part of the five-county "host" region designated by the Republican National Committee.

Heon said despite attempts by Hernando officials and business leaders to tie the county into the event, the decision as to who could participate was decided shortly after Tampa landed the convention in 2010.

"It's a great frustration to us," she said. "Here we are, with one of the largest political events just 40 miles from us, and we can't take advantage of it."

Heon said the limitations posed by the RNC have forced her agency to take a low-cost, back-door approach to getting the word out about Hernando. So far, that has involved mostly piggyback measures with other efforts, such as Florida Suncoast Tourism Promotions, a contract company that distributes brochures for the county at area attractions, museums, RV parks and vacation spots.

Heon said the company's offer to distribute copies of the county's tourism guide to more than 350 bay area hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues before and during the convention was a stroke of luck.

"The hope is that there will be some people who want to get away from the hustle or bustle for a day or so before they go home," Heon said.

Another calling card for the county is that the Hernando County Airport will be unaffected by temporary flight restrictions over Tampa Bay that will be in place during the convention.

Airport marketing coordinator Kim Poppke said she has sent notices to charter flight companies and private aircraft owners touting the airport's hangar space and aircraft services as well as its proximity to hotels and rental car locations, in the hope of attracting those who want to avoid the congestion of a big city airport.

"We feel we're in a unique position to offer a desirable location that would benefit those who want to avoid the congestion of other airports that are closer to Tampa," Poppke said.

As a result, the airport authority has created a website linking itself to the RNC website.

Jennifer Torraco of American Aviation, an avionics company that provides maintenance and fueling services for commercial and private aircraft at the airport, believes that the temporary closing of some smaller airports in Tampa Bay may leave some aircraft owners scrambling to find available facilities.

"If everything is booked, it could be a good thing for us," she said. "We'll be monitoring that information as we go along."

Heon said the results from the county's effort to lure convention visitors won't likely be known until the last minute.

"(The convention) is very well-organized, and they have plenty of things to keep them busy while they're there," she said. "But if someone is looking to go charter fishing or golfing or sightseeing, they just might give us a try."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1435.

Hernando County lures RNC visitors with airport, chance to get away 08/18/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 18, 2012 10:36am]
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