Conexión Florida – August

Here’s the Conexión Florida article for August:

I’m not only hooked on traveling, I’m hooked on watching travel programs on television.

I’m not talking about the shows that are trying to get you to book a vacation with the sponsor, but the real behind the scenes, genuine and authentic versions.

There’s been a great series over the past couple of years called ‘Amazing Hotels – behind the front desk’.  The concept behind the series is that a chef and a restaurant and hotel critic travel to various hotels around the world and actually work in them.  Well, I say work in then but really, it’s a case of shadowing various members of staff in their day-to-day tasks. While this is happening, they gain insights into not only how those hotels work, but what the front-line workers think about the industry and the effect that tourism has on their lives.

They’ve featured huge spectacular hotels in Singapore and Dubai, safari lodges in Africa, small and very expensive hotels in remote parts of South America and very remote lodges in Iceland. Over the past two years they’ve visited a wide variety of extremely different locations. Without exception they’ve found that working in the hospitality and tourist industry has had a profound effect on the local workers and……….

Read the rest of the article HERE


I was flicking though a newspaper the other day, the UK’s Daily Telegraph, and article caught my eye – ‘Why it’s cool to be a tourist, not a pretentious traveler’ (Read it HERE). It got me thinking….

Tourist, Traveler or Visitor?

Firstly I have to confess I wasn’t physically flipping through a newspaper made out of crushed up trees, I was reading the on-line version. I suppose therefore I was simply bothering a bunch of electrons, but that added to pondering as to how our perceptions have changed.

For example, does reading an on-line newspaper make me less of a reader? When we were actually reading a ‘paper’ paper, our eyes would fall on stories that wouldn’t immediately be our target interest. That expanded our reading list and maybe we found opinions that we didn’t agree with, or subjects that weren’t initially in our wheelhouse. It did give us a wider knowledge and leave us open to new thoughts and opinions. It broadened our view. These days we tend to select our interests and have the electrons present us with just what we expect and with which we are comfortable. Maybe we sit in a little bubble of our own making? Only exposed to our own interests and views.

How does this relate to the traveler versus tourist issue? The article pointed out that some folks consider themselves to be more sophisticated than the average and therefore their wanderings were in some way superior to your run of the mill tourist. The ‘travelers’ (actually it was a British article, so they were ‘travellers’ with two Ls!) considered that their experience was somewhat superior to a tourist. Along with the author, I initially thought this attitude was pretentious in the extreme.

As an aside, a number of areas around Florida have names like The Forgotten Coast, The Space Coast, The Emerald Coast etc. There’s one area I’ve always called The Pretentious Coast. Any ideas where that may be?

While it’s true that someone who travels, is a traveler, and a tourist is by definition “A person who is visiting a place for pleasure and interest, especially when they are on vacation”, there do appear to be a whole bunch of different types of tourists.

There are those who visit an area to gain extra knowledge, cultural tourists, eco-tourists, adventure tourists, even health tourists traveling to seek medical attention they can’t get at home. One assumes these all gain something from their experience and hope that they also contribute to the local economy or culture. Certainly the hope is that they do not purposefully detract from the place they are visiting.

There is a type of tourist that actually does little or nothing for either the area that they visit or for themselves it would appear. I’d suggest that these are folks that travel to a destination but then behave just as they would at home or possibly even behave in a way that wouldn’t be accepted at home. These would be the ones that bring everything with them. They experience nothing of the local culture, and contribute little to the local economy. They may be the ones that just come to party uncontrollably, ending up in jail, hospital or worse.

Now, each to his own and I wouldn’t dare to suggest that what one person finds fun is the only way, but it does strike me that there are various levels of tourism. Some are more desirable to a destination than others. I’m sure The Machu Pichu Tourist Board wouldn’t target bachelor or bachelorette parties, but on the other hand would Panama City Beach expect to receive too many groups studying the works of da Vinci?

Without a doubt some travelers get more out of their experience than others but would we term them Travelers as opposed to Tourists? What’s wrong with being a tourist?

The BEST season is just around the corner. Time to shout about it.

Can you believe that next Tuesday is August 1st? Labor Day is just a month away, and schools go back around August 10. Traditionally the summer tourist season here on the northern Gulf Coast runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, what was called the 100 days of summer. These days, with schools breaking later and returning earlier, it’s almost the 60 days of summer. From the industry’s point of view, there’s a big weekend for Memorial Day, then a pause until the schools have been out for a week. Independence Day is huge, although the real success depends on which day the 4th actually falls. Then the season continues until the schools return when there’s a breather until the big Labor Day weekend.

As we locals know, the passing of Labor Day brings one of the two best parts of the year (the other being between spring break and Memorial Day) when the humidity disappears, the heat backs off just a tad, and the large numbers of tourists (those with their young families) are absent. It’s the time we all love, the ideal time to live here.

It’s also the time to attract those tourists that we really love. The higher spending, lower party size, Boomers and Millennials who come for the festivals, life style, food and culture. Not that we don’t love the families who fill the beaches in the summer of course.

Successful tourism maximizes income during the Summer Season, so that the fewer numbers of higher spending visitors during spring and fall provide the icing on the cake. A small increase in these guests provide a thankfully disproportionate increase in income. How to attract this small increase?

Obviously we need to keep our attractions, restaurants and experiences open. We need to plan our concerts and cultural events for this time of year. We need to heavily promote what we feel is the best season of the year.

Many of my fellow industry professionals want to ban the term ‘shoulder season’ when referring to Fall. The move is to call it the Best Season. I understand where they’re coming from. To those in the industry, between ourselves, it will always be a case of high, shoulder and low seasons. That’s inescapable. But to the tourists renaming Fall ‘The Best Season’ maybe simplistic. Best for what?

This is where really clever marketing will come in. Tailoring our message to individuals or personalizing, is where tourism marketing is succeeding now. If you love fishing then the Fishing Rodeo is YOUR season. Music, seafood, arts all appeal to small but high spending individuals with the opportunity to travel. I will say that if you Google ‘Fall Festivals Florida’ you’ll be hard pressed to find many in our area. That’s something that can be solved with creative search engine optimization of course. The Alabama coast has cracked that.

The Best Season, Your Season, Festival Season whatever. Let’s get the word out that Fall is the absolutely greatest time to be here.

Harbor Walk Village, Destin

Tourism leader supports beach access for pups

This article appeared in the Northwest Florida Daily News on Tuesday, May 2, 2017.

Like other parts of Northwest Florida, Okaloosa County could attract a lot more economy-boosting visitors by opening a portion of its beaches to dogs.

That’s according to Martin Owen, a Shalimar-based tourism industry consultant who regularly attends Tourist Development Council meetings.

“It’s niche tourism we can attract, particularly out of season,” he said Thursday. “A lot of dog owners tend to like traveling with their dogs. Our neighboring counties are addressing this, and so is Okaloosa.”

County Marine Economic and Tourist Development Resource Coordinator Erika Zambello shared information with the TDC on Thursday about dog-friendly beaches in Walton County and Pensacola Beach in Escambia County. But she said she has not had any discussions with other Okaloosa County officials about establishing a dog-friendly section of beach.

With the exception of service animals and police dogs, dogs are prohibited on the publicly owned beaches of Okaloosa County, Destin and Santa Rosa County. In Walton County, property owners and permanent residents can bring their leashed dogs on the beach during certain hours and with a permit.

People who violate Okaloosa County’s law pertaining to dogs on the beach could be cited with a fine of at least $100. But such citations are rarely given, county officials said.

Usually, sheriff’s deputies will ask violators to remove their dogs from the beach and the dog owners do so without a problem, county spokesman Rob Brown said.

To read the rest of the article CLICK HERE

Two smooth Collies enjoy the beach on St. George Island, Florida
Two smooth Collies enjoy the beach on St. George Island, Florida

Back to the Brewery……

Back last year we visited Asheville, North Carolina and I wrote about our experience visiting the Sierra Nevada Brewery (See Here) It was great and of course on a return visit this year we felt obliged to go back and check that it was still as good. It was. The restaurant was still serving great food and accompanying it with excellent beer. The store was still selling beer related souvenirs and take-home bottles, six and twelve packs and the ubiquitous Growlers.

We also decided to check out the competing New Belgium Brewery. New Belgium has similar history to Sierra Nevada in that its origin are in the west – Colorado this time, rather than California – and that it was born out of the craft beer movement when beer lovers became disenchanted with carbonated, chemical drinks pushed at us by the big brewers. Similar movements have taken place around the world, notable being the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) n the UK, which subsequently spawned the annual Great British Beer Festival. Suffice to say though that Craft Brewing is spearheaded around the world by excellent US breweries and their beers. However back to New Belgium…..

The New Belgium Brewery is smaller than its Sierra Nevada comrade but none the worse for that. It has a different vibe, just a little more relaxed on the tourism front. The tour is of course free to tempt the faithful to identify even more closely with the brewers. Their maximum number of tour members is 20, but on our tour there were only 5 plus the tour guide, Lucy. Lucy was part of the Brew Team and was certainly knowledgable about the process, history, culture and products. There is a great sense of fun in the organization with employees being given a New Belgium bike after a years service and things like a slide to get from one level of the plant to another – see the photo! New Belgium is an employee owned company and so is unlikely to be absorbed into one of the Big (Chemical Producing!) companies. Unlike Sierra Nevada where the tasting session takes place at the end of the tour, New Belgium indulges visitors with tastings at strategically placed ‘bars’ throughout the plant. The tour ends being dropped off outside the tap room and gift shop (of course) and the Sierra Nevada full scale restaurant is replaced by a Food Truck which is really VERY good.

Which was best? Neither. They are both professional, fascinating and well worth a visit. If you’re going to the area, please try both. Not just from the beer tasting point of view, but to look at how an industrial process has been turned into a tourism opportunity.

Down here on the northern Gulf Coast we have also been absorbed by the Craft Beer movement in recent years. Both the tourists and of course the locals have been calling for something other than mass produced fizzy chemical water. Our large Military contingent along the coast has contributed to this, as they know their beer!

Without too much research you can find 13 craft breweries between Pensacola and Apalachicola. These are virtually all paired with good restaurants and all sell their own beers and the souvenirs aimed aimed at their followers. A good number have formal brewery tours, an I’m guessing that that those that don’t could happily arrange a meet up with their Brewmaster on request.

Of course this is another tourism opportunity for our Destination Marketing Organizations to jump on. The Emerald Coast Beer Trail (I’ll happy donate that title to the cause in exchange for a glass of IPA) could have tourists visiting sites right along the coast. Perhaps some sort of treasure hunt collecting stamps at the different locations, with a prize for getting all of them? Nice Marketing at it’s best and simplest, appealing to Millennials, Boomers and Foodies at the same time. The other thing to mention is this is a year round activity, and it isn’t dependent on the weather.

Just to help out here’s a list of the local Northern Gulf Coast Craft Breweries that I’ve found.

Pensacola Bay Brewery
225 E Zaragoza St
Pensacola, FL 32502-6048
(850) 434-3353

McGuire’s Irish Pub & Brewery

600 E Gregory St
Pensacola, FL 32502-4153
(850) 433-6789

Gulf Coast Brewery LLC
500 E Heinberg St
Pensacola, FL 32502-4145
(850) 696-2335

Ye Olde Brothers Brewery
4458 Highway 87
Navarre, FL 32566-9658
(850) 684-1495

Props Craft Brewery
255 Miracle Strip Pkwy SE Unit B19
Fort Walton Beach, FL 32548-5833

McGuire’s Irish Pub and Brewery – Destin
33 Highway 98 E
Destin, FL 32541-2309
(850) 654-0567

Destin Brewery
505 Mountain Dr Ste N
Destin, FL 32541-7334

3rd Planet Brewing
120 Partin Dr N
Niceville, FL 32578-2053
(850) 502-9952

Grayton Beer Co
217 Serenoa Rd
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459-6099
(850) 231-4786

Idyll Hounds Brewing Company
845 Serenoa Rd
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459-5019

Nivol Brewing
483 N Richard Jackson Blvd
Panama City Beach, FL 32407-3647
(850) 249-1150

Uncle Ernies Bayfront Grill & Brew House
1151 Bayview Ave
Panama City, FL 32401-1452
(850) 763-8427

Oyster City Brewing Company
17 Avenue D
Apalachicola, FL 32320-1801

If I’ve left anyone out, please let me know!

getting employees to another level.
getting employees to another level.
A morale boosting experience?
A morale boosting experience?
The brewery is built on the site of an old circus.
The brewery is built on the site of an old circus.
After a year of service each employee gets a bike.
After a year of service each employee gets a bike.

New Belgium Brewery

Returning to the Sierra Nevada Brewery.
Returning to the Sierra Nevada Brewery.

Northwest Florida Daily News Talking Tourism Column: New Orleans

We just spent a long weekend in New Orleans, which is one of my favorite cities. It’s totally unique. I was first introduced to NOLA in 1972 as a young travel agent on a U.S. tour (seven cities in 10 days!). Being taken to Bourbon Street as a 20-year-old was quite an eye-opener. Luckily my wife lived in New Orleans for quite awhile and really is “local,” so we’re not exactly tourists when we visit at least four times a year.

The city is a real case study for tourism, joining an historic center with a mix of cultures plus being a living, thriving business hub. It has nearly year-round tourism, although the local businesses are only too aware when they have fewer tourists. The Crescent City is known world over for Mardi Gras (or Carnival, as the locals term it) which is both a blessing and a curse as it attracts enormous numbers of tourists. Those tourists tend to consider partying an Olympic sport, which adds a whole new level to tourist management. Natural events like Hurricane Katrina also have put an added strain on the city, and its recovery from a tourism point of view has been nothing short of remarkable.
The great thing about NOLA ………

To read the complete column CLICK HERENOLA-1

Culturally speaking……

Many people suggest that Sir Winston Churchill said ‘England and America are two countries separated by a common language’. Most sources agree that it was actually George Bernard Shaw who said it first, although Churchill probably either repeated it, or said something similar. Whatever, bringing Sir Winston into the story helps me later in this blog, so stick with me!

The fact that ‘English English’ and ‘US English’ share many common words and phrases that have subtle (and not so subtle) differences in meaning and spelling, should give anyone in the travel, tourism and hospitality industries pause for reflection. If you’re reacting to a guest from somewhere else, then be mighty careful what you say, how you say it, and how it’s interpreted.

There are the obvious differences most of us in these industries know about – elevator/lift, sidewalk/pavement etc., but what about the more subtle variations? To a Brit the floor of a building at street level is referred to as the Ground Floor, to an American – First Floor. Consequently the American’s first floor is the Briton’s second floor and so on. When the Englishman requests a room on the first floor, don’t tell him he can sleep in reception!

Taking a laundry order? To an American they’re pants, but to a Briton they’re trousers. The Britain’s pants are the American’s (under) shorts. Vest? Another mix up. Braces/suspenders – a whole new can of worms.

Even within the USA there’s a cultural and regional mixup between soda/pop, median/neutral ground (the Englishman’s Central Reservation!) and many others.

…and those are just cultural differences between folks who suposedly speak the same language. Differences of which the hospitality or tourism professional needs to be aware. Just imagine what could happen with people who speak totally different languages, or who were taught your common language by a a foreigner, if you get my drift.

Then there are the non-verbal communication issues and the cultural nuances of behavior….

Be careful how you accept a business card given by someone from Japan. Their cultural expectation is that you will receive the card respectfully, study it closely for a few seconds and the either place it in a business card holder or in your wallet. Taking the card and sticking in your pocket, or worse putting on the table without reading it is grossly unacceptable and plain rude.

Personal space? Westerners expects two or three feet around them, but many Asians and Africans are much closer. Many Europeans will kiss on greeting – but be careful as there is a strict code of how many kisses on the cheek you’re entitled to.

Never expose the soles of your feet to a Thai, it’s incredibly disrespectful.

Never sip vodka with a Russian. Vodka should, in Russian culture be ‘downed in one’.

It’s incredibly important that our hospitality and tourism folks are made aware of these cultural nuances if they are ever to encounter a guest from a different country or culture, or indeed if we are going to be tourists elsewhere ourselves.

Even making a assumptions is fraught with danger. Just because someone speaks French doesn’t mean they’re French. A Belgian is not going to be amused to be taken for a Frenchman, any more than Canadians and Americans like being lumped together. Call a Scotsman English (or vice versa) and you’re in for big trouble. Same with Aussies and Kiwis. Oh, and never belittle an Australian sports team – ever!

This whole cultural thing extends to gestures, those little things we do with our hands – thumbs up, OK sign, hang loose and such. Well, although these maybe fine in your culture, they are often incredibly insulting or rude to others. Even the simple ‘come here’ gesture means something REALLY bad in many countries.

It can be in a interesting an often amusing subject, but it stresses that if you’re training hospitality or tourism people they must take cultural differences very seriously. Even if you’re not planning on having a large number of out of area visitors, it takes just one one offended tourists to tell their contacts that ‘we’ behave badly. Even the action of making fun of someone’s accent, or the way they phrase things, indicates an immature grasp of cultural differences.

Now, back to Churchill…..

You’ve seen photos of him doing his V-for Victory two fingered salute, but how many of you (non Britons) have really seen how he did it? First and second finger held up, thumb and remaining fingers curled into the palm and the palm facing the audience.That’s important.

Many non-Britons will indicate ‘I want two of those’ by holding up the same two fingers but with the back of the hand facing towards the audience. A big no-no!

The (probably urban myth) story goes that during the 100 year’s war in the fifteenth century, when the English and the French were constantly at each ether’s throats, there emerged an instrument of mass destruction – the English Long Bowman. So successful were the English Bowmen that at the Battle of Agincourt (1415) the English lost only 400 men compared with 6000 French, despite being outnumbered more than 3 to 1. The French threatened that if they caught an English bowman, they would cut-off the two fingers that they used to draw their bow string. Consequently, it is said, the English bowmen raised a two finger salute in a V sign (not the Churchill version!) to the French showing they still had their fingers.

To this day the British use the V sign in much the same insulting way that Americans use the ‘bird’ single finger! You have been warned…..

If you have any cultural ‘faux pas’ we should be aware of – pass them on.

Sir Winston's V sign
Sir Winston’s V sign
The other V sign!
The other V sign!

Exploit the ancestors!

Many years ago, I was involved in tourism from the United Kingdom to Australia and New Zealand. The main demographic was UK folks who had family and friends ‘down under’, due to migration (not to mention enforced transportation of convicts in days gone by!) virtually everyone had a relative in Oz. Not surprisingly this sector was called VFR – Visit Friends and Relations. Rapidly this changed as potential travelers wanted an exotic vacation, but needed to justify the expense. Enter EFR – Exploit Friends and Relations! The premise being that an afternoon visit to Aunt Gladys in Perth would justify a four-week tour around the Barrier Reef and Uluru.

These days there are many reasons people travel, and one the biggest niche markets is heritage tourism. This takes a few forms from ‘cultural heritage tourism’ to ‘diaspora tourism’, both of which have links to my old friend EFR.

An example of this is that in the past 500 years, the vast majority of the population of the USA came from somewhere else. No matter that the descendants of those immigrants feel wholly American, there is a need for many to find out where their roots came from and this drives them to use the investigation of cultural links to justify travel. It’s a good reason.

Not only is this driving huge numbers of visits to Asia, Africa and Europe by the descendants of the original immigrants, but it’s prompting domestic tourism too. Investigations of where the family originally entered the US, where they travelled, where they fought and where other relatives spread.

The proliferation of the genealogy series on television – ‘Who do you think you are?’, plus the on-line family tree services ( etc.) are fueling the interest.

So, it’s a good opportunity for Destination Marketing Organizations to bring tourists into their areas – particularly in out of high season periods – to search for their history. Get a genealogist on call, plus the local historians. There’s always a local history buff who wants to share their knowledge.

Tourism is becoming more specialized by the moment and it gives huge opportunities for DMOs, tour companies and hospitality organizations to expand their offerings and get some of those folks looking for something new.