DAYTONA BEACH — As the World’s Most Famous Beach enters the homestretch of a booming summer tourism season, the Halifax Area Advertising Authority board of directors met this week for a brainstorming session to turn that momentum into a long-term plan for the destination’s future.
Over more than 90 minutes, the Wednesday workshop yielded a range of ideas that touched on the need to attract more private and government investment into the area, the importance of appealing to younger, more affluent visitors and ways to push the destination’s branding away from rowdy events.
“We’re trying to determine how we can elevate and lift our destination,” said Jim Berkley, general manager of the 744-room Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort and chair of the tourism board that oversees and funds the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The workshop represented a continuation of discussions that have dominated the board’s attention throughout the summer, starting in the wake of an avalanche of complaints and bad publicity generated in June by the Daytona Truck Meet.
That three-day event attracted nearly 50,000 monster truck fans and some 5,000 oversized vehicles that thrust the city into chaos marked by ear-splitting train horns, molar-rattling sound systems and visitors who treated Daytona Beach like an open-air toilet and trash can.
At its July 21 meeting, the HAAA board directed CVB staff to research consultants that might be able to help distance the destination from its reputation as a home for such disruptive events.
This week’s workshop was designed as “a discussion about what the board wants to get out of the planning process,” said Lori Campbell Baker, CVB executive director. “What we’d like to do is collect a lot of ideas so we’re heading in the right direction.”
Although the Truck Meet has been a catalyst for the discussion, several board members emphasized that the goal of long-range planning was broader than a reaction to one event.
“It’s (in the) past; it’s over,” Berkley said, bristling at criticism aimed at the HAAA board, CVB and Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce over the event. “It was a private event that the CVB and the HAAA board had nothing to do with. Everyone has been very clear about how they feel about the event.”
In the age of social media, “if you think telling someone ‘We don’t want you here’ will prevent an event from coming to your area, you are dead wrong,” Berkley said.
Building on momentum
Instead, board members focused on the need to build on the positive impact of the addition of new, upscale hotels such as the Hard Rock Hotel, the $40 million transformation of the once-infamous Desert Inn, and The Daytona Marriott Autograph Collection hotel at One Daytona.
Ormond Beach-based Premier Resorts & Management is spending $35 million to $45 million to build a highly anticipated four-star Daytona Beach Marriott Renaissance on the site of the former Ocean Breeze Club at 640 N. Atlantic Ave. in the core tourist district. The hotel is slated for completion by summer 2022.
From 2017: Artsy, 4-star Marriot hotel on horizon for Daytona oceanfront
As such higher-end branded properties continue to emerge, the destination is attracting higher income visitors, said board member Samir Naran, Premier’s chief operating officer.
Earlier this summer, The Brandon Agency, the HAA board’s Myrtle Beach, S.C.-based marketing firm, reported that visitors with a household income ranging from $100,000-$150,000 were the largest demographic to arrive in the Daytona Beach area in June.
“None of us would put our private equity into these projects if we didn’t know that it would succeed,” said Naran, adding that he would like to see a push to attract younger, more affluent visitors.
“Millennials, 40-somethings, are the dominant generation with disposable income,” he said. “I’d like to see a dedicated effort to go get them.”
In advocating for help from an outside consultant, Berkley said that the board could benefit from advice to increase the interest of private investors who might revitalize portions of the beachside.
He pointed to the impact of the $25 million donation of Brown & Brown Inc. Chairman and philanthropist J. Hyatt Brown and his wife, Cici, for the transformation of Riverfront Park on Beach Street.
“That’s what the destination needs,” said Berkley, adding that each morning he walks past a “gigantic lot filled with trash” north of the Daytona Beach Pier on the way to his office.
“Our Boardwalk is not impressive right now,” he said. “Where is the outrage over that?”
Board member Androse Bell, general manager of the Hard Rock Hotel, wondered about why the destination doesn’t embrace its self-proclaimed “World’s Most Famous Beach” tagline more prominently in visitor marketing.
Now, the CVB’s marketing campaign is anchored by “Wide.Open.Fun.” a concept that sparked an avalanche of criticism when it was unveiled in 2018.
From 2018: Daytona Beach will beckon tourists with ‘Wide. Open. Fun.’
“Why do we even shy away from that?” said Bell, who said that he watches tourists stop to take photos in front of the archway bearing the “World’s Most Famous Beach” slogan daily at the beach approach on International Speedway Boulevard. “That’s our business; we don’t even talk about that.”
Baker responded that the CVB’s research has indicated that the slogan “doesn’t resonate authentically with the people who were hearing it,” who might have their own opinions about what would be the most famous beach.
Baker praised the discussion as “productive” and said that the suggestions would be used to develop a list of potential consultants for consideration at an upcoming meeting.
“We will bring you some good prospects to review,” she said. “I’m looking forward to what’s ahead in the next 10 to 15 years.”