In a communication received by Historic City News this morning, Charles Cox, chairman of the board of the Visitors and Convention Bureau, promises that a number of recent changes made at the Visitors and Convention Bureau will make the organization more responsive to industry needs during a difficult period for tourism.
“We felt that the current downturn in tourism spending in St. Johns County warranted actions that would help the Visitors and Convention Bureau focus more effort on meeting some of the immediate problems confronting the local tourism industry,” said Cox; who also serves as vice president of the San Sebastian Winery.
For more than ten years, the Visitors and Convention Bureau has been responsible for conducting an effective marketing campaign designed to bring visitors to St. Johns County. The nine-person staff is composed of specialists in marketing, communications, sales, and graphic design. They are not county employees. Instead, they work on an annual contract that is funded entirely with Tourist Development Tax revenues – the “bed tax” paid by overnight visitors to the county.
The Visitors and Convention Bureau is a partnership with the tourism industry. To be a Visitors and Convention Bureau “partner,” nearly 250 tourism-related businesses in St. Johns County pay an annual fee of $100.
As a first step in reorganizing the Visitors and Convention Bureau, its Board of Directors was reduced in size from 17 to nine members – a step that was approved in a vote by Visitors and Convention Bureau partners and confirmed by both the Tourist Development Council and the Board of County Commissioners. The new board consists of:
Charles Cox, Chairman (San Sebastian Winery)
John Fraser, Vice Chairman (Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth)
Mark Schwantner, Secretary (Renaissance Resorts at World Golf Village)
Bob O’Neill, Treasurer (Hilton Historic on the Bayfront)
Irving Kass, Past Chairman (St. George Inn)
Kathy Fleming (St. Augustine Lighthouse)
David Mariotti (The Lodge & Club at Ponte Vedra)
Tina Puckett (Holiday Inn, St. Augustine Beach)
Virginia Whetstone (Whetstone’s Chocolates)
The Board also has three non-voting members representing the mayors of St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach, and the Board of County Commissioners.
Barbara Golden, Communications Manager for the Visitors and Convention Bureau told Historic City News that an extensive search for a well-qualified candidate to fill the newly created position of Executive Director is now underway. Glenn Hastings previously served as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Visitors and Convention Bureau. Hastings will now serve in the singular capacity of Executive Director of the St. Johns County Tourist Development Council.
Until the executive director position is filled, Board Chairman Charles Cox will supervise the Visitors and Convention Bureau on a voluntary basis. The goal is to have the executive director position filled by the end of the year.
Among other changes, a new contract between the county and the Visitors and Convention Bureau is being developed and will be in place within the next 60 days.
Also, the Visitors and Convention Bureau staff will soon move from the County Administration Building to a new location. Several options for the Visitors and Convention Bureau offices are under consideration.