Monday night, I received an email from Casey Hartt, the lead marketing consultant from the Office of Tourism Development. In this email, she invited me to attend the Highlands County Tourism Development Council’s meeting this past Thursday as they were unveiling their newest strategic plan.

At first, I did not understand how my ideas would correlate to tourists but I attended the meeting with an open mind. After listening to the presentation of the Strategic Plan by Brian London, a major contributor of the plan, I can say with pride that this plan is exactly what this county needs. It realizes the idea that by investing responsibly and increasing the experience economy, essentially the entertainment in this county, we will continue to see tourists arrive to Highlands County.

It is a significant shift from constantly focusing on bringing people here to making sure our community is able to attract them, because ultimately these tourists are here because of our community. This plan emphasizes increasing activities in our county, updated marketing methods, responsible spending, and increased listening of the public’s grievances.

There is nothing more I could have asked for.

The new Strategic Plan for the Highlands County Tourism Development Council presents an innovative way of attracting tourists through investments in the community. The first vision statement of this Strategic Plan describes just that. It states, “The Highlands County Tourist Development Council (TDC) inspires research-based decision making which leads to the type of destination development that inspire future generations to remain in the community, and not move out of town”. This vision statement is a perfect description of how to benefit our county both economically and its residents. Visitors are able to enjoy their stay in Highlands County and the current residents are convinced to stay in our county.

The second vision statement is also vocal about enhancing the quality of life of current residents. It states, “The Highlands County Tourist Development Council allocates resources in order to enhance the quality of life for residents; including efforts to reduce seasonal employment and to create a place for families to raise their children.”

A piece that may be easy to read over is the mention of the attempt to reduce seasonal employment. This means that the Highlands TDC is striving to make tourism a year-round occurrence, which is ultimately a major economic boost to local companies. This will be achieved through an increased quality of life, which ties back to the first mission statement. It is also worth noting that this plan also addresses more efficient uses of the allocated budget. It encourages the use of funds on digital advertising over outdated billboards and the use of money over multiple projects, not just one large project. This fiscal responsibility is something that is not even a matter for discussion, as it has to be done to make sure our tax dollars are spent correctly.

Ultimately, there is simply too much good to discuss in just one column piece. I encourage every reader to look over it as soon as the final draft is released.

It would be unfair to not mention that London held 31 interviews with stakeholders and surveyed many residents in our county. While talking with him, he described his job is to “amplify the voices of the community.” After looking over this plan many times, I can say that Brian London did an amazing job at doing this. He presents the displeasure of the community in a professional manner and shows us exactly how solving them can help this county economically.

Miguel Arceo is a student athlete at Sebring High School.

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