Don’t look now, but the periodic discussion of the deplorable state of the Halifax area’s tourism product is back on the table – and while absolutely nothing of substance will come from it – it is nice to occasionally delude ourselves with a sense of, well, hope. . .
Us weary denizens of Florida’s fabled Fun Coast are weird that way.
In his Sunday screed, editor Pat Rice of The Daytona Beach News-Journal wrote yet another entreaty for someone to do something about what he described as our “decrepit core beachside.”
In summation, Mr. Rice implored:
“Most everyone wants to see the beachside better than it is. Not just so we can attract tourists. It should be the place where all of us want to visit or live.
Let’s get to it.”
While I appreciate Mr. Rice’s perseverance, the fact is, in Volusia County we have an almost masochistic bent for allowing those we have elected and appointed to positions of high responsibility to tell us what they think we want to hear and a willingness to bank on the ramblings of developers shills, uber-wealthy insiders, and pseudo-experts as fact – while ignoring the paid advice of professionals or our own educated perceptions and suspicions – always accepting the inevitable with a stoic “that’s just the way it is” resignation.
Perhaps it is because the stark reality of our collective predicament is simply too much to bear – or, after decades of living with the squalor, blight, and dilapidation that is our core tourist area we have simply become accustomed to it?
Recently, Uncle Bob Davis, President for Life of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County, and Jonathan Abraham Eid, of Los Angeles-based Vienna Capital, the latest owner of the Grande dame of beachside hotels – The Plaza Resort & Spa – held a “Hoteliers Unite” summit, bringing together our tourism and hospitality gurus for a meeting of the minds.
Unfortunately, the guest list included six members of the tax supported Halifax Area Advertising Authority – which raised questions among some that the private confab may have “undermined” the spirit of Florida’s open meeting law.
Because it did. . .
According to an excellent report by Jim Abbott writing in the News-Journal, “…the meeting included an update from Davis and Eid on a year’s worth of meetings that they have had with various Daytona Beach and Volusia County officials, beachside residents, business owners and others seeking to foster communication that could lead to improvements in infrastructure, code enforcement and other issues.”
Yep. ‘Big doings,’ folks – the only thing missing this time around is the perfunctory “Town Hall” or “coffee klatch” sponsored by the News-Journal and hosted by Pat Rice. . .
Invariably, those with a chip in the game will say “That’s just Barker being a Negative Nancy – always focused on the dark side,” and maybe they are right.
But whenever I begin to doubt my best instincts, I ground myself with a quick review of the voluminous 2013 Analysis of Volusia County Tourism Marketing conducted by Strategic Advisory Group of Duluth, Georgia – a wholly ignored independent study that Volusia County residents paid $100,000 for – which is now collecting dust on a groaning shelf in some ancient records morgue in DeLand.
The report was controversial – some in West Volusia thought they were underrepresented – while others accused former County Manager Jim Dinneen of having authored the report himself – and, at the end of the day, some of the consultant’s core suggestions obviously didn’t sit well with our fusty, ‘set in their ways,’ tourism mavens.
However, none of our entrenched hospitality insiders can say they were not warned.
After interviewing some 150 “stakeholders” (essentially the same group listed above), SAG distilled some common themes for Volusia County political leaders to consider.
These included the problems inherent with creating a singular tourism agency for Volusia County – citing the fact Southeast and West Volusia are vastly different from Daytona Beach (that’s true) with each attracting a different demographic, no comprehensive communications plan to keep stakeholders informed of tourism efforts, the lack of research-driven marketing strategies, and no identifiable measurement plan, “…a tool to increase understanding of success and current and future direction.”
So, what’s changed?
After all, DeLand and New Smyrna Beach have worked hard to develop unique communities – with thriving art and entertainment venues, an identifiable city center, and a hometown feel that draws repeat visitors, entrepreneurs, and satisfied full-time residents.
The Daytona Beach Resort Area has not. . .
Most important, according to SAG, the stakeholders expressed concern over the long-term condition of the tourism product, “notably the beach side of Daytona Beach.”
There were many types of concerns expressed. Examples include:
1. Condition of hotels
2. Condition of storefronts in high volume areas
3. Lack of attractive streetscape in key tourism areas
“There is widespread concern that there is no “plan” for who is leading the effort and how these challenges can be improved. The issue of improvement in the tourism product was a top priority in most of the interviews.”
Again, sound familiar?
Because in May 2018, Tony Grippa, chair of the blue-ribbon Beachside Redevelopment Committee, briefed the Volusia County Council on its year-long in-depth study of the historical challenges facing tourism and redevelopment from Ormond Beach to Daytona Beach Shores.
The study, conducted by Volusia County’s ‘best and brightest,’ was born in the aftermath of the News-Journal’s outstanding “Tarnished Jewel” exposé which took a deep dive into the malignant blight that has been slowly destroying our core tourist areas for years.
When the impressive Mr. Grippa finished his presentation before the Volusia County Council – and laid the group’s bureaucratically neutered findings at the feet of the masters – our elected dullards on the dais of power (now having effectively faded the political heat) discharged the committee with “great thanks and appreciation” – while lame duck Councilwoman Billie Wheeler cooed:
“I am fighting with you on this,” Wheeler said. “This is my district, and we do have a plan of action, but I want to make sure it is not one of those plans of actions that goes on the shelf, and I can tell you I am 100% committed to doing whatever I need to do in collaborating with this group on getting things moving.”
Rah, Rah, Rah – Sis-Boom-Bah!
More bullshit. More time over the transom.
So, what happened to that “Plan of Action” Ms. Wheeler?
Although convenient, the fact is, Councilwoman Wheeler shouldn’t be the scapegoat for the historic waste and inefficiencies, lack of civic vision, the motivations of mercenary property owners, and the almost strategic blight that continues to drive our “tourism product” into the toilet.
In the aftermath of the Beachside Redevelopment Committees arduous work – which, according to past precedent, went totally unheeded by both our elected officials and entrenched hospitality insiders – Mr. Rice wrote in a 2019 essay:
“It takes time to remedy the decades of neglect and problems that have allowed the beachside to become decrepit and crime ridden. Raggedy rental housing doesn’t improve overnight. Shops and restaurants don’t just sprout up because people wish for them. Everyone gets that.
But there is such a thing as not trying hard enough. There is such a thing as flying too below the public’s radar. There is such a thing as not banging the drum loudly.”
Inconceivably, according to reports, recently the Halifax Area Advertising Authority board of directors, “unanimously approved the selection of MMGY NextFactor, a travel and tourism consulting firm based in Vancouver, Canada, to prepare a long-term strategic plan to overhaul the destination’s image.”
The $50,000 study is described as “…a full-scope deep dive into today’s destination image and perception of Daytona Beach.”
Eight-years on, perhaps before we expend one more dime on studies and consultant reports, our “tourism gurus” should print this line from the SAG report and have it tattooed on their foreheads:
“Without resources – leadership and economic – the overall tourism experience in Volusia County will decline. An overall collaborative strategy is needed.”
How many more times do our ‘powers that be’ need to hear it?