Tourism is part of the lifeblood of South Florida's economy.
The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau — the marketing agency for Broward County —introduced its 2020 vision for attracting new visitors to the area at a luncheon Wednesday, inside the soon-to-be-redone county convention center.
WLRN spoke with Stacy Ritter, the agency's president and CEO, about what the future of tourism looks like in Fort Lauderdale, and whether the agency believes it will be impacted by the city’s issues with infrastructure.
Over the past several months, sewage and water pipes breaking have continued to alarm and frustrate residents. The three pipe breaks since last weekend have prompted precautionary boil-water notices in several areas of the city.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
WLRN: How important is tourism to the economy here?
Ritter: It's the No. 1 industry in Broward County. One hundred eighty thousand people are directly or indirectly employed with tourism. It is the biggest economic engine we have here. Thirteen million visitors a year with an economic impact of $8 billion. If you don't have that, then your community doesn't evolve. It doesn't grow. It can't create.
So for local residents who may not think about tourism, if you're living in a western community, especially, you don't see the tourists as often as we do here on the Beach. Understand it impacts you, too. They're paying taxes. They're going to restaurants in your communities. They're going to your parks, they're shopping in your retail.
They have a huge positive impact on us here in Broward County. Without them, we would die.
How have the sewage and pipe breaks over the last several months been affecting tourists wanting to come here? Have you seen an impact, or are you expecting to see an impact in the future?
I can tell you, I haven't received a single phone call, email message, note from any visitor asking about that, or complaining about it. To date, we haven't seen a drop because of that — we haven't seen a drop at all.
I mean, Super Bowl we had two weeks ago — that'll make a great February for us. Pride of the Americas in April will be a huge event for us. Tortuga Music Festival comes back in April. Nobody's canceling or planning not to come because of something that they might have read about that.
What are some highlights of the plan? What are the things the Convention & Visitors Bureau is doing?
We like to think it's a vision for the decade. You know, we keep our fingers crossed the economy continues to roll, but we are an ever-evolving destination. We have more international markets than we did 10 years ago, more domestic markets we have to reach than we did 10 years ago. People know us. Our job is to make sure that they come and visit us.
We have cut down on international travel. We have representatives in countries to do that for us, but it's a lot more social media.
The goal is clearly to bring more visitors year over year — to bring more spending here in Broward County, to increase spending, to increase length of stay.
You also have to make sure that while keeping the staple markets happy and secure and aware, you've got to reach out to the new ones, too, because it's a global economy.