PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Florida State University students have the opportunity to get a degree in recreation, tourism, and events.
The specific studies program is preparing students who wish to enter the tourism or hospitality industry after finishing their time on campus.
“They learn about creating events and programs, managing facilities, finding where does the money come from and how do we use the money to market it, some risk management and they get time to get extra courses in hospitality or business,” said FSU Panama City program coordinator, John Crossley.
In hopes to not only help his students, Crossley and his staff partnered with Explore Northwest Florida in hosting an Ecotourism Summit on Tuesday.
“This is about sustainable tourism which is what we care about our environment and owe it to preserve it and take care of it while we experience it and have fun and so it’s finding that blend between what works and what’s good for the environment,” Crossley said.
Local leaders from different Tourist Development Councils, marketing organizations and even state leaders from Visit Florida attended the event.
“Tt’s a great opportunity for the practitioners of tourism across the region to really learn about what’s going on in ecotourism but also to connect with others who are involved in it,” said Bay County TDC President, Dan Rowe.
Rowe says even though he is head of the Bay County office, having tourist success across Northwest Florida is always a goal.
“People don’t really care about county lines when they’re coming to travel, they just want to come for the experience and for us to be able to partner with folks in Washington County and Jackson County, Gulf and Franklin Counties and even Walton County and beyond, it really does help. Our visitors want to have that experience so it’s not about us,” Rowe said.
Visit Florida CEO, Dana Young served as the keynote speaker for the event, discussing what her office is designed for and how they help bring people and money into the state.
‘Visit Florida is probably one of the best deals you’ll ever find. we deliver $2.15 for every dollar we’re appropriated. We put billions of dollars into state coffers that can then be used by the legislature to fund important projects like environmental protection and infrastructure,” Young said.
A more recent campaign she says is targeting the ‘adventure seekers’ and after only one year of marketing, they saw a major increase in those types of visitors.
“Most people probably don’t think about Florida when they think about an adventure trip. We targeted this traveling segment and low and behold, after one year of marketing, we saw a 27% increase in booked adventure travel to Florida,” she said.
Another main part of their work is providing support and help to areas after tragedy hits.
“After a time of crisis in the state of Florida, like here in NW Florida, Hurricane Michael was obviously hugely impactful to the area. So Visit Florida was here on the ground not only providing support to areas like Mexico Beach and Panama city and letting them know that we would be here to help them market at the right time. We also were here providing authentic facebook lives and other types of media exposure showing that Panama City Beach, Destin, Fort Walton, 30A, that these areas were open for business.”
She says the ecotourism campaign is vital to building back up the attraction level of the state.
“Eco travel and ecotourism means different things to different people. To me, as a 6th generation Floridian, it means enjoying spending time in nature, finding those hidden gems of Florida that make us so unique and diverse and special. Swimming in a crystal clear spring, seeing a manatee from the side of your kayak, watching dolphins swim off the seawall and just so many things that we can, we can bike. We can hike, we can zipline. You don’t have to travel to Costa Rica to have an amazing ecotourism experience.”
As of right now, Visit Florida will stop its work on June 30 if the state legislature doesn’t reauthorize the office and its budget.
Young is asking anyone who is connected to state senators or representatives to contact them and show support for the organization.
“We just can’t afford not to have it,” she said.
Crossley says the program is small but they always welcome new students. Learn more about the program here.