TALKING TOURISM: Somewhere seed was planted for a vacation destination


What really drives our visitors to come to the Emerald Coast, 30A or Navarre as opposed to Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head?

By Martin Owen | Special to the Daily News

As residents of one of the best vacation destinations in the country, if not the world, it would be interesting to find out where you go for your vacation and what prompted that decision. I’m not talking about visits to see family and friends, but actual “get away” vacations. It could be that you feel we’re in the best place, so you only take stay-cations, but let’s assume the majority of us try to get away to somewhere different.

Did you wake up one morning and say, with a flash of inspiration, “Let’s go to the Keys”? Or did you have a dream that suddenly told you to jump on a plane to the Grand Canyon? What prompted that thought of a destination?

I’ve been told that watching the TV show “Downton Abbey” resulted in many a trip to England. Perhaps an article in National Geographic prompted a sudden interest in the giant redwood trees out west.

I ask this because when we’re trying to develop ways to attract visitors to our area, we sometimes are a bit too close to the woods to see the trees, so to speak. But what really drives our visitors to come to the Emerald Coast, 30A or Navarre as opposed to Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head? If you’re “just” looking for a beach resort, then why here and not there?

My experience in helping travelers with their vacation decisions over a long period tells me that something triggered that original inquiry. As I said earlier, it could be as simple as watching “NCIS New Orleans” and thinking you’d like to try the gumbo and listen to the music. Equally, you could be a commuter in London, England, walking across a wet, dark train station one morning when someone comes up and gives you a glass of fresh Florida orange juice. Suddenly, the idea of a vacation to the Sunshine State becomes not just a vague idea, but an absolute “must do.”

It’s been suggested by no lesser person than the new speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Richard Corcoran, that people’s only vacation decision is based on the size of their pocketbook. A decision of only “where can I go for $xx?” I simply don’t believe that.

Back in the 1980s, the Australian Tourist Commission (the Aussie equivalent of Visit Florida) discovered that many of us on this side of the Pacific didn’t know much about the Land Down Under. So they developed ads telling us about their beach lifestyle, the Outback and their food. They sponsored movies like “Crocodile Dundee” and the TV show “The Thornbirds,” and encouraged tours by bands like Men at Work. Suddenly tourism jumped and hasn’t stopped since.

That’s a single example but I could give you dozens more. Someone put the idea out there and we picked up on it.

So, please let me know (at what prompted your vacation decision. I’m genuinely interested and it could help our area to accurately target new visitors.

Martin Owen is an independent consultant to the tourism industry and owner of Owen Organization in Shalimar. Readers can email questions to