Heads in beds.

It’s not the title of a horror movie (although it would make a great horror movie title). It’s the ultimate goal of our tourist industry, and a catchphrase used by our Monroe County Tourist Development Council (TDC). The TDC, funded by bed taxes (extra tourist tax money collected from hotel room and vacation rental stays), is charged with marketing our Florida Keys destination to the world. They also provide local event promoters with funding they can use to market and promote their events – reimbursable dollars that can really help a great local event grow and prosper.

For the most part, the TDC does a great job – they have hired some really dedicated and qualified PR and advertising firms that do a great job with publicity for and creative marketing of our island destinations. Andy Newman and the creative team at Tinsley Advertising have gotten us great results throughout the years.

Every now and again, however, someone at the TDC steps in something smelly – and it virtually always seems to have something to do with reimbursable event marketing funds. The TDC has always insisted that 90 percent of those reimbursable dollars goes to out-of-county marketing, with 10 percent allowable for in-county promotion. That’s understandable from a “heads in beds” point of view – attracting more out-of-county visitors is the TDC’s objective. Internet advertising and promotional expenses have always been considered out-of-county and thus reimbursable by the TDC, even if the websites were based in Monroe County.

At next Wednesday’s County Commission meeting, the TDC attempted to sneak through a rule change that would have eliminated ALL local websites from being considered as out-of-county marketing… except for their own www.fla-keys.com website! Thankfully, new Commissioner (and long-time County Clerk) Danny Kolhage has agreed to pull this item from Bulk Approvals so that it will have a real honest discussion by the entire Commission.

Aside from the fact that this misguided proposal creates a nice little local online advertising monopoly for the TDC, the idea is just plain bad in many ways. Many local media outlets, like this very newspaper, maintain websites for out-of-county people interested in the Keys. These website visitors are most likely repeat visitors to the Keys, and are a much better target market than just tossing out ads on Google and Yahoo. These website visitors, already interested in travel to the Keys, might be even more inclined to do so after seeing advertising for a local event on a “local” website. And as just such a “local” website, 75 percent of the visitors to www.keysweekly.com are from out-of-county, and 50 percent of all visitors are from within Florida – an easy drive to come and stay for one or more of our local events.

Another thing to consider is that both local event promoters and local media outlets both benefit from being able to offer reimbursable Internet advertising. It certainly helps some local media outlets offset the cost of local event promotion – coverage and advertising that is absolutely essential to a local event’s success. If the TDC is successful in implementing this change, they will actually eliminate reimbursable event promotion to a very important out-of-county target market – and they will have used locally generated tax dollars to remove money from our local businesses and local economy while shoring up a nice little monopoly of their own.

This proposed change certainly does not pass the smell test. I strongly encourage the County Commission to reject this proposed rule change as it discriminates against local media providers and event promoters, it will negatively impact event promotion to out-of-county target markets (heads in beds), and it will establish the TDC as an unfair local online advertising monopoly.


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