Visitors enjoy Englewood Beach on Oct. 25. Charlotte County’s tourism leaders are inviting the public to attend focus groups next week.

Now is the time for an overhaul of Charlotte County's tourism strategy, according to the county's tourism director.

One thousand new hotel rooms could be in the county within the next year, and several thousand more rooms are slated for construction after that, Punta Gorda-Englewood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau Director Wendie Vestfall told the Sun.

With huge projects such as Sunseeker resorts underway, the county needs to start selling itself, Vestfall said, but not just to anybody.

"How do we bring the right tourists in?" is the question to ask, she said.

To get the ball rolling, the county's tourism team is inviting the public, including business owners, to attend one of two industry focus groups on Nov. 14 and Nov. 15.

The Visitor and Convention Bureau is in the beginning phase of creating a Tourism Strategic plan "that will provide an organized and structured framework for tourism development and promotion within the county," according to a news release.

The Nov. 14 session will be held from 8:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. at the Visual Arts Center, 210 Maud St., Punta Gorda. The Friday session will be at the same time at the Englewood Chamber of Commerce, 601 S. Indiana Ave.

Also attending these sessions will be the county's consulting firm called Streetsense from Washington, D.C., which has experience in community development as well as marketing, Vestfall said.

"We want to hear from everybody," Vestfall said. "Hit us with the positive and the negative."

Outside of these public sessions, Streetsense staff are meeting one-on-one with many county and airport officials, and businesses and community leaders.

"This is something that's never been done before, here," Vestfall said of this strategic plan for tourism.

Charlotte County knows what has happened to other tourist destinations in Florida, which are more developed — and congested.

"We see what our neighbors have. We want it to be controlled so it's a nice place to be," she said of tourism development. "We're not looking for those spring break party people. We're a little more laid back."

Perhaps the county wants to attract more families, more people interested in watersports, she suggested. The county is already known for eco-tourism. What will be next?

Tourism is a fragmented industry, Vestfall said, including not just hotels but restaurants, retail stores, sports teams, arts and cultural events. A strategic plan should make sure everybody works together toward a common goal.

In the end, Vestfall noted, the county should benefit economically with a large influx of new tax revenue, sales for business and jobs for residents, she said.

Those interested in attending can RSVP at where you can search for "tourism strategic plan."


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