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

Conexión Florida – July

Here’s the Conexión Florida ‘Let’s Talk about Tourism’ article for July…

About 20 years ago, it was predicted that workplace automation, the rise of the internet, and the ability to work from nearly anywhere would lead to a massive increase in leisure time. And as a result, we would see an increase in tourism worldwide. This was predicted to be good for everyone: more travel, more vacations, and a better-funded tourism industry with well-paid jobs for all… Well, the result has happened, and world tourism is at an all time high. However, the reason for that increase was not really as predicted.

Certainly workplace automation, computerization, and the ‘always on’ mobile Internet have had an effect; but the boom has come from other areas. The rise of the Boomer generation was the first driver. Those born after WW2 through 1964 have come to retirement age across the world. They may not actually retire completely…….

Read the rest of the article HERE

TALKING TOURISM: There’s financial benefit to dog-friendly accommodations

This article appeared in the Northwest Florida Daily News on Sunday May 6, 2017

A couple of years ago I got into a conversation with the general manager of a very large hotel that is known for its attention to detail and 5-star accommodations. It’s also a large conference hotel, so it’s not a small “boutique-style” location.

We got talking about niche markets; those parts of the customer base that have particular needs and wishes. It appeared that the hotel was given the chance to become the host hotel for the largest dog show in the U.S. and her conference department could not pass up the chance for the amount of business the show would bring. Naturally, she was more than concerned at the thought of literally hundreds of dogs staying at a 5-star establishment.

To read the rest of the column please click HERE.

Daily News TALKING TOURISM: A layman’s look at how bed tax works

This column was published in the Northwest Florida Daily News on Sunday March 2, 2017.

I’ve been asked a number of times to explain how bed tax, or Tourist Development Tax, is used. There also have been some letters suggesting that it be used for items or services that aren’t currently covered, so I thought a brief explanation might be useful. Please bear in mind that I’m not a lawyer, but it would appear that even some lawyers can’t agree on the interpretation of some bed tax clauses, so I’ve gone with what the TDCs, tax collectors and others usually use.

You may remember that bed tax was set up to be charged on short-term rentals in designated tax areas. Some counties implement across the whole county (Escambia for example) while others have specified tax areas (e.g. Okaloosa and Walton). The tax is collected by the rental companies and hotels, and paid to the tax-collecting body of the county. Owners can pay direct to the county, too.

You can read the rest of the column HERE

Lodging Leaders Podcast.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a podcast called Lodging Leaders with Jonathan Albano.

Lodging Leaders brings together the best and brightest minds of the hotel industry to share their stories, insights and actionable advice. Each week, founder and entrepreneur Jon Albano interviews inspiring hoteliers and leading industry professionals that have produced amazing results.

You can hear the full interview HERE

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes HERE   or on Stitcher HERE.

Lodging Leaders

March Newsletter

For those not on our mailing list, here’s the March newsletter!

Navarre Beach.
Navarre Beach.

Last month, we discussed how some politicians in Tallahassee, the Florida State capital, were playing politics with the future of Visit Florida, the State’s destination marketing organization. That fight isn’t over as we’ll report.

This month other politicians both here in the USA and in other parts of the world are having influences on tourism in ways they cannot predict.

Good news however is that Culinary Tourism is booming. Read on….

Political shenanigans

The move by Speaker Corcoran to de-fund Visit Florida continues, although he has indicated that he no longer wants to close the organization down, merely to limit its ability to operate and drastically reduce its budget. Governor Scott is fiercely fighting this along with the Tourism Industry and it would appear, members of the Senate. The fight is not over and if you’re involved in the industry in Florida, I urge you to a) contact your representatives to support Visit Florida and b) attend Tourism Day in Tallahassee this month to lobby in person. Please contact me if you need details of how to attend Tourism Day.

In what promises to be a difficult year for international tourism, further obstacles are being dreamt up by politicians on either side of the Atlantic.

The strong US dollar has the potential for discouraging European tourists in particular from visiting the USA this year. Some of those European economies are not strong currently and the USA could be expensive for them.

We now have the three year-old dispute between the EU and the USA over visas. The EU parliament consider that the countries of the community should be considered as one (that has resulted in the UK wanting ‘out’ with their Brexit vote), although the US still recognizes individual states. The US has refused to allow some EU states access to the Visa Waiver Program which allows visa free travel into the US. Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus don’t meet the US security requirements. The EU has said that either the US accept these countries or all US Citizens will require visas to visit any EU country.

This is an old dispute and has now reached the ‘Who blinks first’ stage. Despite the strong dollar which makes overseas travel attractive, American tourists would be very discouraged if they were required to get a visa. Europe needs those US dollars after a lackluster 2016 tourist season following terrorist attacks, and although advance demand has been strong, it wouldn’t take much to scupper that.

Traveling the other way – east to west – is also potentially threatened. I mentioned the strength of the dollar being a hazard, but what has been called the ‘Trump Effect’ is apparently causing a softening of travel demand. I’m not making any political points, just reporting on figures coming from sources in the tourism industry.

It appears that first announcements of a travel ban had a detrimental effect on European tourists plans to visit the US. I’ve been asked why, say, a German tourist would feel threatened by a ban on travelers from certain middle east countries. I can’t answer that easily, but believe me they are worried. Even the UK tourists who believe they are part of a ‘special relationship’ with the US, are as a group being cautious. Suffice to say that enquiries for flights to the US are down an average of 22%. Tourism research firms are projecting a loss of 6.3 million visitors ($10.8 billion in lost revenue). The tourism board of New York City has predicted that 300,000 fewer tourists will visit than did in 2016. Previously New York was predicting an increase of 400,000. Philadelphia has already lost one conference worth an estimated $7m as a result of the proposed travel ban.

Even the Canadian market is seeing a drop in the number of tourists intending to travel below the 49th.

That’s International tourism of course and it’s been suggested that it won’t affect US destinations that don’t cater for Internationals (like Northwest Florida, where only 1% of tourists are from outside the US). That may be true, but of course the markets that attract overseas travelers are hardly likely to sit and do nothing. They will want to find domestic tourists to replace the foreigners and they are not averse to creating marketing campaigns and making offers to lure those domestic guests away from places like the Northern Gulf Coast.

As the old Chinese curse says “May you live in interesting times”.

It’s not all bad news though…..

95% of travelers have said that they engage in unique and memorable food or beverage experiences while traveling, according to the World Food Travel Association ( I guess that they would say that!). Another research organization, Destination Analysts, claim that 50.7% of Millennials won’t visit a destination that doesn’t have good restaurants – although they don’t define what makes a good restaurant.

Before you state that Millennials are just children, remember that the first Millennials turn 35 this year! Also important is that the Centennial Generation (Generation Z or ‘Post Millennials’) are now just beginning to enter the workforce, so are beginning to effect the market.

Certainly the younger generations are having a strong influence on their parents and grandparents when it comes to food. A recent report by the HAAS Center (part of the University of West Florida) was created to examine tourism trends in Okaloosa County (home to Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island). They found that although tourist spending in restaurants in the county increased in 2015 more than 15% over 2011, its revenue per seat had grown only 12%, where peer and competing counties had grown by 28%. The competing counties are where most (but certainly not all) of the new and more creative restaurants are found. Interestingly, the area has seen an increase in the number of up-scale grocery stores (Whole Food Market, Fresh Market and Publix). Whereas in 2011 tourists spent twice as much in restaurants as they did in grocery stores, it’s likely that 2016 will see tourists spend more in grocery stores than in restaurants for the first time.

The take away (sorry!) is that those tourists are seeking culinary experiences, and finding them.

Which brings me to the really good news for my home area. I recently attended the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association’s annual awards ceremony for the North West Florida region. The display of talent at that event was stunning. The quality of the areas chefs, wait staff and managers was exceptional and their depth of knowledge, experience and creativity was at least a match for more recognized tourist areas. A similar level of expertise was evident in the hotel, resort and accommodation sector.

That Culinary Tourism is growing makes really good news for the industry as a whole. It’s also great for The Northern Gulf Coast of Florida. The Tourism Industry worldwide is going for Culinary Tourism in a big way from the traditional destinations of Europe to the New World and areas like Australasia. Even Costa Rica getting in on the act. Don’t underestimate the Cruise lines either.


Get ready……

Happy New Year and welcome to 2017!

I’m not one for making resolutions, mostly because I change my mind so much! If you want to change something, better to just to get on with it than wait for some arbitrary date to start. That’s my excuse anyway. Similarly, looking backwards doesn’t help because we can’t change what has past – although as numerous people (apparently) are quoted as saying – if you don’t remember past mistakes, you’re doomed to repeat them!

So, in the interests of progress, let’s look forward.

I’ve read two articles over the end of the year break that I felt were right on point. I’ve attached links to these so you can read them yourself.

The first was by anti-aging & sports medicine pioneer, and futurist, Dr Robert Goldman ( Dr Goldman pointed out some of the changes that society will be subjected to over the next few years. What is most striking is the speed at which these changes will take place. I remember talking to a scientist with British Telcom back in the early ‘90s who said that they knew absolutely what developments would arrive within 5 years; they had a pretty good idea what would happen in the next 10 years but beyond that they were ‘wishing and hoping’! as Dr Goldman suggests we are now in the exponential age, where changes occur at an ever increasing rate. In many cases these changes happen faster than most businesses can adapt. If you read the article you’ll see that many developments will directly affect the Travel and Tourism Industry.

The second piece was by Christopher Elliott in the Washington Post ( Chris is suggesting that 2017 is the year many people, especially Americans, won’t be traveling on vacation. He cites many reasons and offers suggestions of how as a tourist you can benefit (please go and read it!) but for those of us in the industry there are three main takeaways. That tourist will be looking for alternative accommodations, authenticity and satisfying their needs for instant gratification.

I’ve talked to many travel and tourism professionals over the past year and we’ve discussed the inevitable changes that are happening and I can’t think of anyone who has disagreed. After all, the signs are really clear – very ‘in your face’ as it were. However, many are not willing to accept the speed of changes.

Take ‘alternative accommodation’ – Airbnb in particular. Home sharing has expanded incredibly rapidly. Airbnb are now the largest accommodation provider in the world with over 2.5million homes (incidentally, they own no hotel rooms!) yet most of the vacation rental companies here in Northwest Florida’s Northern Gulf Coast seem to think think they are not a serious threat to their business model.

The past year the 1.5 million guest arrivals to Florida via Airbnb represent 114 percent year-over-year growth. This comes as Floridians increasingly embrace the home sharing platform as an opportunity to earn supplemental income and make ends meet. The Airbnb Florida host community grew 74 percent in 2016 to a total of 32,000 hosts.

Yes, the local industry says, but it’s in cities, not here.
This is the total supplemental income earned by Airbnb hosts in our local counties:

Bay County $4.9 million
Walton County $3.3 million
Okaloosa County $2.9 million
Escambia County $1.8 million
Santa Rosa County $683,000

That’s a total of nearly $13.6 million. True, it’s only 10% of the income from Miami-Dade alone, but its still remarkably significant.

People love the idea of either staying with a local host, or staying in the home of a host which they perceive differently than the relatively anonymous experience of a cookie cutter condo or a ‘standard’ hotel room.

This contributes to the ‘authenticity experience’ that comes from home sharing, boutique hotels and the like.

Chis Elliott also refers to ‘Instant Gratification’. I know I’m always talking about the attitudes of Millennials and younger Boomers but they do have have a seemingly out of proportion effect on our industry. Their behavior appears to affect the other sectors of our audience too. The ubiquity of smartphones and the ability to access information from wherever you are, makes the almost impulse decision to book a vacation all too easy.

You’ve bought things on Amazon. How many times have you been tempted by the ‘people who bought this also bought this’ suggestion?

Think what will happen when someone suggest “How about we go to The Gulf of Mexico next weekend?”. You look at your phone and up pops the local CVB websites – you see what events are happening, and guess what? You can book the Airbnb accommodation right there, and the concert tickets, and the Uber from the airport. Of course there was link to book flights too but you’ll probably want to do that with the airline because you get your miles there – and suddenly Delta Air Lines are offering 1 mile for every $1 you spend with Airbnb if booked through them – oh, and Uber credits too.

We have a change to the whole vacation booking experience, which is not taking 5 or 10 years to develop but is happening as we speak.

Put a note in your calendar to contact me at the end of 2017 and tell me if there have been no changes to your tourism business during the year. To be frank, I don’t think you’d be able to do that by June!

Whatever happens is going to be exciting. The evolution of the world’s biggest industry has always been fascinating and the near future won’t disappoint I’m sure.

Please follow the Owen Organization blog on, sign up for the newsletter and follow us on Facebook at Lastly, check out the weekly ‘Talking Tourism’ column in the Northwest Florida Daily News every Sunday.Flying to the Gulf

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!

These are not the B&Bs we remember….

Back in the UK, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, there was an institution known as the ‘Seaside Bed and Breakfast’, a type of hotel for the masses to stay in during their two week vacation at the beach. They were usually presided over by a formidable landlady who ensured that all her rules were adhered to, that breakfast was taken at the hour of her choosing (when she rang a gong!) and that guests were out of the establishment by 9:30am and not allowed back until 5pm regardless that a hurricane force gale was blowing on the beach. Such fun!

Bed and Breakfast accommodation here in the USA these days is nothing like that hackneyed cliché. We’ve (thank you Researcher in Chief Bethany) sought out any number of B&Bs over the past while as an alternative to conventional hotels, and more precisely as an alternative to staying in anonymous chain, box, hotels when only one night is required.

Most recently we’ve stayed in Watkinsville GA, Auburn AL, Louisville KY and Tallahassee FL, each of which have been spectacular.

There is much media chatter about what AirBnb are doing to the hotel business, but to my mind the real story is how Bed and Breakfast is bringing a new meaning to true hospitality. Let’s look at our stay in Watkinsville…..

We chose the Ashford Manor (, which is right in the centre of Watkinsville, 10 minutes from Athens GA. Watkinsville itself is a pretty town, with a bunch of good restaurants and stores right outside the B&B.
The rooms are a delight – eclectically designed and very comfortable – just look at the photos. We stayed in the Cottage Gallery Suite – again see the photos – and it was absolutely charming. They also have a suite that is dog friendly (The Cottage Hideaway Suite) and a room in the main house that accommodates dogs.

The B&B is owned and run by Dave and Mario who are a case study in Hospitality Management. Check-in was easy (as was check-out!) and the breakfast was perfect. We stayed in mid-June and the weather was ideal to have Sunday breakfast on the front porch. An added draw is that Ashford Manor also specializes in weddings, so if you’re about to tie the knot, it’s a place to look at.

Back in April, we traveled up to Asheville NC (see the blog ‘Thinking outside the Kennel’) and on the way back broke our journey in Auburn – Researcher in Chief Bethany, is a graduate (War Eagle! apparently). Rather than stay in an anonymous chain hotel, we chose The Crenshaw Guest House ( No photos unfortunately but have a look at their website. We stayed in Thach Cottage, which again is dog friendly should you be traveling en-famille (or even ‘Avec Chien’!). As you’ll see from their photos, again the rooms are really comfortable and welcoming. But the common theme with these B&Bs is the welcome you get from the owners, in this case Steve and Sarah Jenkins, and the amazing breakfast they provide.

Whenever I have to travel to the Florida State Capital, Tallahassee, I always check into The Little English Guesthouse ( run by fellow Briton Tracey Cochran and her husband Thom. It’s very English themed and the welcome is perfect. Hospitable but not intrusive. The food is exactly what’s needed before a day treading the halls of government and the afternoon glass of Sherry doesn’t go amiss either.

Speaking of amazing breakfasts, you can’t beat the DuPont Mansion in Louisville KY. We stayed there for nearly a week in March. to check out the photos. The property itself is both beautiful, historic and very convenient. The welcome from the InnKeepers as they term themselves was exactly as you’d be taught in the best hotel schools. ….and the breakfasts….. Simply amazing.

One more for your list. The Shade Tree Inn in St Francisville LA. ( ). We stayed there back in 2012 and it’s as different from the others I’ve mentioned as it could be. This is a 4 acre hilltop bird sanctuary hidden away in the Deep South. I’ve added a photo of the panorama from our room. An unbelievable welcome, perfect hospitality and great food.

The thing that comes from all these outstanding Bed and Breakfast establishments is that they are not providing a commodity – a room to stay in and that’s it. They are providing a true experience, a reason to go there in addition to visiting the destination for vacation or business.
My visits to Tallahassee for example could be achieved in a day – early morning drive down I-10, business meetings and a drive back. But the experience of staying in the Little English Guesthouse encourages me to go the afternoon before. I’m rested and calm before I start my day of meetings and I’ve had an experience, not just a night in an hotel.The same applies to all the B&Bs I’ve mentioned, and others we’ve stayed at.

Traveling these days, no matter for leisure or business, must involve more than just a bed to sleep in, a plane ride to get there or a beach to lie on. The experience and the memories can stay with you and encourage you to return. The great experiences that are offered by these hospitality experts encourage their guests to become advocates and ambassadors, spreading the word by TripAdvisor and other review sites

The Main House, Ashford Manor
The Main House, Ashford Manor
Breakfast on the front porch, Ashford Manor.
Breakfast on the front porch, Ashford Manor.
The Cottage, Ashford Manor.
The Cottage, Ashford Manor.
The lounge in the Cottage Suite, Ashford Manor
The lounge in the Cottage Suite, Ashford Manor
The bedroom in the Cottage Suite Ashford Manor.
The bedroom in the Cottage Suite Ashford Manor.
The Shade Tree Inn, St. Francisville, LA
The Shade Tree Inn, St. Francisville, LA

and by the stories they tell their friends and family.

If you’re involved in tourism, hospitality, restaurants or attractions, that must be your number one goal – surely?