TOURISM EFFORTS ARE DIVERSE
THE TOPIC: Tourist tax dollars rise to record highs.
OUR OPINION: Tourists should be welcomed with open arms.
When family and friends come to visit, we pad the pillows, clean the linens, and make sure the guest room is bright, warm, and inviting. We open the door when you arrive with arms outstretched in love and warm greetings.
We should do the same when tourists visit Citrus County, assisting ourselves with the so-called “bed tax” that all tourists raise to enjoy the pantries the county offers our visitors.
We have to do something right as last fiscal year saw record sales of $ 2.44 million, an impressive figure after the “lost year” we all experienced with the pandemic. This recovery in tourism dollars is welcomed, as is the recent increase in the tourism tax from 3% to 5% in 2018, and none of this is a burden on our local citizens. Part of that increase, the fifth cent, goes to a tourism-related capital improvement fund. This is an indication that the county’s tourism-focused management has a positive vision. There is that Discover Crystal River Website, a destination for tourists to start planning their vacation. Although the website is a stand-alone project, it is also under the umbrella of Visit Florida, the nationwide tourism promotion platform. Visit Florida supports smaller tourist destinations in a variety of ways and we are grateful for these efforts.
But back to what the Tourist Development Council and Citrus Visitors Center are doing right. The TDC recently approved a $ 60,000 application from the Homosassa River Restoration Project to help with permit fees. HRRP’s Steve Minguy welcomed the TDC’s unanimous vote and said this funding is a major contributor to the approximately $ 90,000 required for permits to continue granting one of the county’s First Magnitude Springs, the Homosassa River clean. This cleaning of the invasive lyngbya, An alga that is choking the natural environment of this freshwater resource extends from the springs at Homosassa Wildlife Park to the Hall’s River. This resource, by the way, is one that manatees flock to during the winter months, and a resource – the only one in the US – that allows locals and tourists to snorkel with these gentle giants.
The district’s visitor office has also been strengthened and focuses not only on domestic but also on foreign tourists. With the reopening of the European borders, two PR firms, one in London, the other in Germany, are marketing our area. A payout came last week when a group of German tourists checked into the Crystal River visitor center. We have also partnered with British Airways and there is high expectation to welcome our neighbors across the pond for a visit.
That brings us to an important part of marketing and that is customer service. We have all heard the phrase “service with a smile”. It’s not hard to imagine a beaming, happily smiling face, and that’s what you get when you call the Crystal River Tourist Office. You can hear that friendly smile over the phone.
But let’s also remember that here in the county we have a limited amount of natural resources – mostly water-based – and an overwhelming impact on those natural resources can be as damaging as losing tourism taxpayers’ money during a pandemic. All the more so because it takes so long to restore our natural beauty.
While we applaud these county tourism efforts, we urge them and our local and county governments to watch out for any congestion that will short out our economies. Let us be prepared like good scouts. And while we welcome our family and friends to our homes, we continue to welcome tourists who visit our area.