NEW PORT RICHEY — John Hagen wants Pasco County’s tourism professionals to reach far and wide to put the area on the map. Sort of.
Hagen, president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council, spoke at a tourism summit Wednesday where a group of tourism and hotel professionals gathered to generate new ideas.
“Our job is not to try and draw people directly to Pasco County, it’s just to get them the last few miles,” Hagen said.
Hagen said Pinellas and Hillsborough counties as well as Orlando have multi-million-dollar campaigns to draw visitors to their attractions. He said Pasco just needs to convince those tourists targeting nearby areas to trek over to this part of town.
He called it guerilla warfare.
“Let them do the heavy lifting. Let us figure out how we can get them the short distance.
“I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s a lot easier than trying to get somebody to come from China or Indonesia. When they’re in Orlando, they’re pretty close.”
There are five markets Hagen believes are key when it comes to growing an area’s tourism population and dollars: seasonal residents, sports, international, ecotourism, and arts, culture and entertainment.
Since Pasco has an influx of Canadian snowbirds, he wants to deepen the ties by welcoming those seasonal residents back each year with a celebration and use them as ambassadors to the area.
Hagen also suggested other ideas.
Hagen was Economic Development director in Surprise, Ariz., when that city made a pitch to lure the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals to a new baseball stadium built in 2002.
He said Pasco County could do something similar.
When the tourism business is booming, full-time residents will gain better services, he said.
“Tourism makes better amenities for the residents,” Hagen said. “The trade-off is maybe you don’t get to use them as often and maybe it’s more crowded, but you get better facilities because you’re serving more people.”
Several speakers, including destination marketing expert Bill Geist, Dev Pathik, founder and CEO of The Sports Facilities Advisory in Clearwater, and Robert Skrob of the state’s destination marketing association, offered several ideas for the county.
Hagen also compared Pasco County, which has just over 470,000 residents, to Tennessee’s Knox County, which has a population of about 432,000.
Knox County, home to Knoxville and the University of Tennessee, has a convention center, 25 museums and galleries, 25 festivals, a symphony, orchestra, opera and theaters, his research showed.
Pasco County is well behind that pace.
“Am I being disrespectful to us? No, I’m just saying let’s start thinking like a community that has a half a million people,” he said. “We can do lots of stuff, but we have to think like a community that is the size that we are and recognize that and start to benchmark ourselves.”