Why would anyone visit Hernando County? It is a logical question considering there is no large resort or convention center and little meeting space. There is no large upscale or outlet mall. There is no brand-name identity. Why wouldn't you come to Hernando? It is an equally pertinent inquiry.
Unspoiled beauty abounds. The Weeki Wachee mermaids and water attractions are regional favorites. The Gulf of Mexico beckons. The county is well-positioned to lure value-driven tourists and its recreational/sports complexes are utilized by out-of-town families attending youth/amateur sports tournaments.
Getting up-to-date and accurate information from visitors is one of the tasks confronting the Tourist Development Council, local hoteliers and event promoters as they try to define exactly who are Hernando County's tourism customers. The research is a key part of the county's three-year tourism marketing plan to build a brand name identity for Hernando within the Tampa Bay region.
The timing is opportune as the upcoming debut of the Florida Blueberry Festival is expected to draw as many as 40,000 people to downtown Brooksville and, separately, the county is anticipating private-sector interest to expand the Anderson Snow Sports Complex to include more fields, and potentially a motel, restaurant and retailing on 45 acres of public land.
Both developments also demonstrate a test to tourism promoters. As outlined in the marketing plan presented to commissioners last week, the make-up of the local tourism assets (it doesn't even use the term ''attraction'') requires the county to market to several niche audiences because there is no large-scale destination/attraction.
It means getting mom and pop and the kids to sports tournaments; hikers, bikers and kayakers to the nature trails, rolling hills and rivers; golfers to 17 courses; off-road vehicle drivers to Croom Trails; and fishers and boaters to the Gulf. The desired result is more visitors generating more commerce and, in the end, more sales tax revenue.
But, the report also identifies another significant obstacle to tourism promotion: Hernando County has little name recognition. The marketing moniker "Nature Coast'' identity is not much better, according to a telephone poll of people living in Florida's major cities. People are more familiar with the individual geographic entities of Weeki Wachee, Brooksville and Spring Hill than they are with the overall county.
It's a challenge to any brand-building effort. You want people to visit, spend money, and have such a good time that they want to come back. But you also want them to know where it is that they are visiting.