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From Quiet Alabama and Unquiet Daytona, Georgia Turner Is Flagler’s New Tourism Chief

| November 5, 2011

Georgia Turner this morning at Town Center. (© FlaglerLive)

Georgia Turner this morning at Town Center. (© FlaglerLive)

Barely two weeks after Peggy Heiser announced her resignation as Flagler County’s tourism chief, her replacement was named Friday: Georgia Turner, a sharp, congenial, ukelele-proficient 30-year veteran of public relations and marketing. Turner was hired out of the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, where she’s either worked, had contracts or contacts since 1987, with a direct hand in marketing Biketoberfest, which she helped found 19 years ago, Spring Break (when Daytona’s romp was still on the map) and decibel-rich special events.

Flagler’s tourism strategy, by contrast, has stressed this county’s selling point as the anti-Daytona, down to its marketing campaign’s standing motto: “The quiet side of Florida.” Not that Turner is unfamiliar with that side of tourism. To the contrary.

Turner honed an affinity for smaller-market, rural-county tourism when she spent six years as the executive director of the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association, promoting Alabama’s northern counties–and being named the state’s Tourism Professional of the Year in 2000. “The reason that several people said that this might be a fit for me was really because of my past experience,” Turner said, standing at the entrance to the Seafood Festival in Town Center and protected from the wind by a Biketoberfest jacket. “For 10 years I’ve had clients all over the Southeast that were in much smaller communities. That was really our forte, was working with smaller communities in Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia.”

It’s that rich Rolodex (or its more current electronic equivalent), along with Turner’s familiarity with the region–she lives in Ormond Beach–that appears to have played a key role in her hiring. Turner spent the last decade at the head of the Nashville and Ormond Beach-based Georgia Turner Group, a management and PR consultancy for tourism and entertainment industries she bought in 2001 when it was called Stone and Associates. Through it she became especially familiar with PR and travel writers, a pillar of tourism-industry advertising.

Turner’s employer is officially the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce. But she’ll be paid with public dollars generated by Flagler County’s 4 percent bed tax–levied on hotel, motel and other temporary-lodging stays–and administered by the county’s Tourist Development Council. The council contracts with the chamber to provide marketing services. She’ll be vice president of tourism development at the chamber, reporting to Chamber President Doug Baxter. In effect, however, Turner works for and in conjunction with the tourist council. She starts Nov. 21.

Though she cited family matters when she resigned, Heiser’s $65,000 salary was likely a big reason she left, after she requested a 7.7 percent raise that the council approved, but the county commission–which ratified all council decisions–rejected. This year’s TDC budget was set a few weeks ago, with the executive’s salary at $65,000. That’s not likely to change. (Note:  the figure was incorrectly reported as $70,000 in an earlier version.)

There was a Palm Coast applicant with strong credentials, out the 20 who applied, but the chamber was more comfortable with Turner’s enthusiasm and style, said Milissa Holland, who chairs the TDC and spent an hour speaking with Turner. Holland’s relationship with the next executive is key to the continuing success of the council: the council’s advances in the last two years hinged on a cohesive partnership between Holland and Heiser, both of whom saw eye to eye on fundamental issues such as the kind of tourism Flagler would go after, its place in the economic-development equation and the role of intense marketing, particularly in Canada and in markets within a six-hour drive of Flagler. Holland on Saturday said that change was difficult, but she was not going to judge Turner through the prism of her experience with Heiser. “I’m certainly going into this with an open mind,” Holland said, reserving further evaluations until Turner has had time to get used to the job.

Turner is clearly aware of Holland’s role–and cloud. She described Holland as a “very sharp lady,” and went on: “I’m really excited to work with her because I think she gets it. I know that she’s had a lot of education within the last couple of years with Peggy to really find out what tourism is and how I feel about it too, that it’s part of economic development as well as a good thing for all communities. But it’s really a part of economic development. We had an opportunity to talk a lot about that and what we feel like I can bring to the table.”

When she ran her own company Turner focused especially on organizing so-called media tours, the bread and butter of tourist marketing, but also, from journalism’s perspective, an ethically compromised practice that entails travel writers traveling and getting wined and dined on the marketer’s dime, and on that of the hotels, restaurants and attractions the writer is visiting. The implicit expectation is that the writer will in turn produce flattering reporting that will look objective and appear under the banner of journalism, but is far from it. Heiser organized at least one such tour with Turner in Flagler, and organized them without her as well. Serious news organizations forbid their travel writers from taking part in such schemes. Serious and credible free-lance travel writers who do take part in them–and who cannot afford the trips on their own–strive to disclose the conditions of the trip and what was paid for.

Expect such trips to continue to be part of the Flagler council’s strategy under Turner, who said the nature of travel writing is changing, anyway: the days of the big organized tours are over–which is one of the reasons she closed her own firm and looked for steadier work in Volusia a year ago. “We had just really had kind of a change, what we were doing was not working as we ll as it had in the past,” Turner said.

One of Turner’s principal responsibilities this year, through a sub-contractor, will be to redraw the tourism council’s three-year strategic plan. Turner doesn’t yet have specific ideas about that, looking as she does to find out more about the county first. But she has a clearer idea about the current market. “All of us are really having to depend on Floridians to attract to our areas, people are going closer and closer” to where they live, she said. “Also, the economy the way it is right now is giving us an opportunity for international visitors, mostly for Canadians, which we’ve had that a lot anyway but also to give us a lot more opportunity for international visitors which I think all of Florida is going to benefit from that, from the dollar being the way it is.” A euro is trading at close to $1.40 at the moment, making travel to the United States very attractive to Europeans. “Just for Biketoberfest alone, we had more international visitors than we’ve ever had. So I just think it’s kind of something to fit in even with smaller communities.”

Baxter, the chamber president, in a chamber release, cited Turner’s “considerable experience, communications skills and enthusiasm” among the qualities that would help promote Flagler tourism.

If Turner wasn’t in PR, she was once asked in an interview, she said she’d be “driving the tour tram at the Daytona International Speedway,” what she called her dream retirement job.

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13 Responses for “From Quiet Alabama and Unquiet Daytona, Georgia Turner Is Flagler’s New Tourism Chief”

  1. Layla says:

    Why does one Commission membre have so much clout over this new employee? If this is hinging on Holland, why doesnt she resign and do the job herself, saving the taxpayers money?

  2. PJ says:

    There is nothing wrong with Hollands liking Turner. It may be better for the county and all of us with a fresh face that knows the area and someone who is not stale like heiser was.

    Great pick on the BOCC part. Now let’s get to work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Layla says:

    Thanks for clarifying that! Welcome, Turner!

  4. Justice for All says:

    If this County is good enough to work for, why aren’t “department heads” required to live here?

  5. Motel Operator says:

    Lets hope she does a better job than Baxters Chamber,I work in the motel/hotel business and see very little coming out of chamber other than trying to sell me ad space in everything they do.Maybe its time for new blood in the chamber.

  6. palmcoaster says:

    Totally agree with Motel Operator…same reason why mine and other businesses colleges quit the Chamber Membership. Yesterday we went to the Seafood Festival organized by Lisa Gardner our cleaver “City Event Coordinator” and looks like a big success as multitudes attended in spite the cold windy weather. Some Both Vendors restaurant business owners present, told us their business and advertising exposure on the event was a real success…for them on the first day, they still have today too. I mentioned to some of them that if these events are not only self funding for the city but furthermore leave a profit maybe then for the first time Lisa Gardner and city should organize a “pick my spirit up, free concert given the high unemployment blues in Flagler Cty” with some worldwide names like Steven Tyler “Aerosmith” and maybe someone like “good old Tom Jones” on a two day event to justify hotel bed occupancy and gather enough vendor booths sold and sponsors and very important and profitable, the right to video the two shows, to pre-arrange the sell to TV stations for live play and or reply on their programs for an arranged fee that will also go to help pay the performing artist.
    There should be advertisement in the Orlando, Jacksonville and other major city area papers and our usual banner in I95. Lets give it a try and with plenty of time in advance to achieve the most booth vendors, sponsors and time to discuss and propose to our TV artistic programming stations including non profit ones like PBS the televising of the show for a fee. Also announcing the event in our local radio stations and non profits like NPR that many of us listen as well.
    Lets show this county that Palm Coast doesn’t need to give the FCCO(U)O Chamber, 1.3 million of taxpayers funds “to attract some tourist” and free riders wine and dine trips to journalist. City of Palm Coast has the creativity and power to be placed in the tourism national map and attract ED while doing so. Only takes some work to organize it, “assuring will be no less than self funding” and if leaves PC a profit then, lets rejoice!

    Note:Today is the NYC Marathon started at 8.30 AM and guess what? we all physical fitness fans could not watch it simply because Brighthouse does not show it, as I learned after I called them. One of our Palm Coast athletes is participating…Mr. Musso.

    Correction: The chamber does not get $1.3 million from the TDC. That’s the total revenue generated by the 4 percent bed tax. It’s split between capital projects (not a chamber function), beach protection (not a chamber function), subsidies for cultural and tourist events (a chamber function administratively only) and marketing (a chamber function). The chamber’s portion of the budget this year is set at $800,000. The details of that breakdown are available here (look for the table at the foot of the article).–FlaglerLive

  7. Kip Durocher says:

    “Turner was hired out of the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau” or ” Turner spent the last decade at the head of the Nashville and Ormond Beach-based Georgia Turner Group.”

    Which is it? Is it just me that is confused?

    “Turner’s employer is officially the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce. But she’ll be paid with public dollars…….reporting to Chamber President Doug Baxter.”

    I am not comfortable with this arrangement. I am not sure if it is legal under State Statues. I will attempt to get a legal opinion from a State Attorney not of this district.

  8. palmcoaster says:

    Thank you for the correction to Flagler Live. So much disgust going back and forth on these figures brought up my error. I’m glad is less.
    Good thought Kip, but unfortunately Florida Law regulating TDC allows for contracting with the Chamber or similar organizations,. See link:
    I believe most of us, don’t like this arrangement either. Tax funds to the tune of 800,000/year handed to the Chamber for Dough Baxter’s management?
    TDC should have a meeting with its “real members”, all those obligated to collect and turn in the 4% bed tax and ask their opinions and ideas about how should be invested when it comes to “attract tourism and grant disbursements”. Already in this harsh times having a 4% tax other than the usual 3% we used to have, before Heiser tenure, is a disadvantage. I don’t know what kinds of ties Smith Travel has with TDC Board or Chamber if any, but if you read my next enclosed TDC minutes link you will see that the two largest resorts can only afford to have their lodging accounted for, as is one more costly memership to be paid for. See item 5 on thislink:
    Heiser and Chamber’s choice, for lodging numbers record keeping is a pretty costly one.Then these figures provided, only show how well the two paying resorts did as per “Smith Travel Reports” . Chamber only wants its member to pay and pay and pay, likewise TDC maybe. Did you raise your eyebrows regarding the discussion over the incomplete TV and magazine advertisement plan presented?
    This proofs the one local Hotel Operator comment above, because the tax revenue he turns in, as usual only benefits the 2 or 3 elite resorts that seat at TDC Board and the Chamber interest.
    Research the past history of TDC tax payers funds assignments to two of the resorts that seat at TDC Board: Ginn, Thunder Gulch. Never mind the funds assigned thru the years to the FCCO(U)O….The latest only benefits their close circle of elite while ignoring most of its membership.

  9. Kip Durocher says:

    But does it allow county employees to be supervised by non-county employees.
    In this climate today of risk management I am not so sure.
    Has Doug Baxter been background checked? Is he qualified to supervise?
    I don’t think a few COC training days make a manager.
    Can the Flagler BOC send employees to work with private
    business under their existing types of insurance and laws?
    Contracting is one thing ~ employee supervision is another matter.
    These questions need review by an out of district State Attorney.

  10. palmcoaster says:

    I sure see the conflict of interest as you do. Also the fact that TDC and the County Commissioner Chairman (Holland, currently) as well of TDC Board as per the Florida Law, base their decisions, projects and planning for their 800,000 tourist attraction campaign budget, in the Smith Travel Reports (STR expensive private consultant for the local hotels) and is is ludicrous and a waste of money for the other many hotels refusing to join the membership. They base their opinions and decisions in an incomplete STR report as only two hotels (Ginn Hammock B. and Hilton GI) pay for the expensive STR membership. STR does not even list Flagler County on their national reports because they require a minimum percentage of all the county hotels to do so. Flagler County does not fulfil that STR requirement as per their policy stated here:
    “Smith Travel Research requires a minimum participation by properties within each county in order to include that county in the report and there is a fee for properties to participate”
    Then why is FCCO(U)O and TDC and Holland basing their own reports and pressuring the rest of our local hotels to buy into this STR? Do they think that a local small hotel or bed & breakfast can afford to join this fortune 500 accommodated consultant, specially in these hard times? Always wasting tax dollars in high priced useless consultants…Remember the one for the ED seminars at over $1,200 plus/hour? I wonder about the real underlines.

  11. palmcoaster says:

    Why the Palm Coast applicant was not hired instead, helping to reduce our second higest unemployment number in the state? A local employee would spend locally other than in Volusia County and help our local economy as well. This is why I call it the “Flagler County Chamber of Outsourcing”.

  12. Kip Durocher says:

    I do not have a problem with the COC advocating for business. I do have a problem with the COC national mission of advocating for business at the expense of everything and everybody else. An organization that
    advocates the repeal and removal of hard won work week, minimum wage, safety and collective bargaining
    laws is out of step with the 21st century. Elected officials who champion these type of organizations will find
    they to are on the wrong side of history and will eventually make themselves unelectable. I feel the culture of
    pandering lobbyists and office holders who make big podiums to sit above all others is coming to an end. The public will elect citizen\legislators and not outsized egos!

  13. Angela says:

    Georgia is an absolutely amazing lady and Flagler County is lucky to have her. I’ve worked with her in the past (and yes I’m a resident of Flagler County, been here for the past 17 years). Congrats Georgia!!!!!!!!!!!

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