Promoting tourism after toxic water

Parks and Rec taking over from Martin CVB

STUART, Fla. -

While the toxic water situation on the Treasure Coast has gone away for the moment, who's out there letting tourists know it's safe to go back in the water?


Martin County is right now in a unique situation when it comes to marketing itself for the future.


While Wednesday's winds and rains are not ideal Florida weather, once the first snow hits up north...


"It gets cold and wet and they want to come to sunny Florida," says Jacque Lewis.


Lewis is general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott in Stuart and President of the Martin County Hotel Motel Association.  


"We don't advertise today for tomorrow. We sell for the future. When you go on vacation, you don't make a decision Tuesday where you're going to go on Friday," said Lewis.


But who's selling the county's charms now?


When Commissioners terminated the half-million dollar contract last month with the County Convention and Visitors Bureau, it left a void that the county's Parks and Recreation department has been filling.


These days in fact when you're looking for tourist information and you pick up the phone to call, it doesn't go to an actual tourism office. It goes to the main desk at the county administration building.


"To make sure that any visitor that calls will get an answer, and that's the number one goal," said Martin County Parks and Recreation head Kevin Abbate.


Another goal, said Abbate, is to use social media to remind tourists we're open for business after a summer of toxic water. But he added they try to highlight things not affected by the water.


Next week, the county is expected to approve a contract with a consultant.


"Engaging the stakeholders of this county to see what they want to do in terms of who's going to run it, what we're going to look like, and how we're going to brand ourselves," said Abbate.


That consultant contract is capped at 50-thousand dollars, 10-percent of the Convention and Visitors Bureau's annual deal.


"They're going to have to go through their own growing pains and learn what was working and why it was working," said former CVB head Rozeta Mahboubi.


Where the CVB used to operate in downtown Stuart, city employees have been pitching in by keeping a tourist information center open, as the county maps out its tourism future.


Jacque Lewis said her organization is ready to work with the county.


"As soon as the county is ready, we're ready to partner with them. However, they don't have an organization set yet, they don't have a leadership role for that position," said Lewis.



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