What is Visit Jacksonville?
If you’re like most people, chances are you don’t know the answer.
At least that’s the experience of Paul Astleford, president and CEO of Visit Jacksonville, the convention and visitor’s bureau for Jacksonville and the Beaches.
When he met a few weeks ago with a group of about 50 local business owners and managers and asked that question, Astleford said he was surprised by the response.
“Only about five people knew who we are.”
Astleford took over the organization in January 2013. Visit Jacksonville is a nonprofit corporation that provides destination marketing and sales services for the Duval County Tourist Development Council, a body comprising elected officials and appointees who administers Jacksonville’s “bed tax” collected on hotel rooms.
Of the 6 percent tax collected based on the room rate paid by each guest, 2 percent is allocated to the Sports Complex Capital Maintenance Fund, 2 percent to Municipal Stadium (EverBank Field) and 2 percent to the development council.
Seventy percent of the TDC’s portion is allocated to Visit Jacksonville, with the remainder used for grants to attract
For the year ended Sept. 30, 2013, Visit Jacksonville received $3.5 million, with $2.7 million budgeted for sales and marketing and the remainder for administration.
Astleford came from Columbus, Ohio, where he served as president and CEO of Experience Columbus for 13 years.
He said when he arrived in Jacksonville, he would first learn the city’s structure and leadership, get to know the local tourism market better and then apply his more than 40 years of experience in the hospitality industry to bring more visitors to Jacksonville and thereby enhance economic development.
Being “under the radar” as far as the community is concerned isn’t making that any easier.
“Visit Jacksonville is not well-known in the community. That hinders our ability to do our job,” Astleford said.
Making the organization better known, including in the business community beyond the hospitality industry and among the public at large, is a goal Astleford and Visit Jacksonville have next year.
Inviting people who do not serve on Visit Jacksonville’s board of directors to participate in committees is one way Astleford said he will increase the organization’s visibility and profile. The 12-month goal is to “involve the entire community in the effort to build the hospitality industry,” he said.
After more than one person in 10 knows what visit Jacksonville is and what it does, the next step will be to ask the community for its help in creating an identity for Jacksonville that can be used to attract more leisure, corporate and convention travel business.
“We have to decide who we want to be and how we want to project our self to the world,” he said. “All the economic elements need to talk about Jacksonville with a common message.”