August 12, 2022

Travel & Hospitality

Trendsetters - Nov. 2005

Mike Vogel | 11/1/2005
The Fort Myers tourism promotion group D.T. Minich leads has argued against a new Wal-Mart site and lobbied to stop the local water management district from sending huge releases of Lake Okeechobee water down the Caloosahatchee River where it damages the estuary and coast, spreading pollution and killing sea life by dropping the salinity to harmful levels.

Executive director / Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau

HIS OWN GETAWAYS: Florida locales, Europe, the Caribbean

QUOTE: "I travel so much I like to stay at home, actually."

ON D.T.: "I tell people it stands for Director of Tourism." Actually, it's Dana Troy.For Minich, 42, the work reflects a changed mindset at the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau from destination marketing organization to destination management organization. "It's more than just marketing anymore. It's kind of taking a leadership role in how the destination changes and grows," he says.

You may see it emulated. Other bureaus in Florida and nationally have followed the Lee bureau's lead on such things as a nature guide that educated visitors about being responsible tourists and helping preserve the oceanfront's sea life.

A University of Kentucky graduate, Minich's parents believed travel was the best education and didn't blink at removing him from school for a month of travel. "I think that's why I'm in this job," he says.

Minich started at the bureau as an intern and never left. He became director in 2000. The bureau's annual $12-million budget is generated from bed tax revenue.

His latest marketing mission is to distinguish Lee and Sanibel from "Generica" and its ubiquitous Starbucks, Lowe's and Targets by highlighting locals -- artists, charter captains and others. The marketing supports local businesses and makes the area stand out.

The discharges from Lake Okeechobee consume much of his time, however. The bureau hired consultants and a Washington lobbying firm. It's producing TV public service announcements urging people to contact congressional representatives.

Says Minich: "We advertise ourselves as an eco-destination and pristine destination, and if these things continue, we won't have anything to advertise anymore."

Scoring Big

As a 7-year-old sports nut, Tampa native Rob Higgins talked his way into volunteering in the University of South Florida's basketball program, handling every role from ball boy to videotape editor as he continued into high school. He earned a USF scholarship as the team manager. He dreamed of coaching but concluded that administration, not coaching, was his future.

Executive director / Tampa Bay Sports Commission

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: "Good to Great" by Jim Collins. "A lot of the philosophies in that translate into our commission."

FAVORITE SPORTS MOVIE: "Rudy," the story of a Notre Dame walk-on.

COMMISSION-SUPPORTED COMMUNITY EVENTS: Local football and soccer athletes' championship days at Raymond James Stadium. The USF-FAMU game in September. Coaching clinics: United Negro College Fund High School All-Star Basketball game.It was a well-reasoned conclusion. At 23, Higgins became the youngest manager of an NCAA first- and second-round tournament in 2003. The event, for a non-dome site, set a profit record and had the fourth-highest paid attendance. As USF's assistant director of facilities and events, Higgins helped with the successful bid to host the 2008 Women's Final Four.

In 2004, two months after becoming executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, the sports division of the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, the region won the 2008 NCAA men's basketball first and second rounds. Since then, Higgins has led in getting the 2009 SEC men's basketball championship and the 2012 NCAA hockey Frozen Final Four. "We've been fortunate to be on a pretty good roll," Higgins says.

Under Higgins, the commission in the first nine months of the fiscal year has generated nearly triple the number of sports-related room nights from 2003, says Karen Brand, the bureau's communications vice president.

Higgins, 26, says the 2007 ACC men's basketball tournament, whose landing predates him, "really starts off an entire resume of incredible events. We're going to be spending a tremendous amount of time making sure these events go off successfully."

In For The Long Haul

>> A1A Marathon, Fort Lauderdale: If all goes well at the inaugural Fort Lauderdale marathon scheduled for Nov. 12, look for a smiling Steven Tebon. The Boca Raton entrepreneur is betting $200,000 to $250,000 that Florida, home to at least 12 marathons, needs another. A Green Bay, Wis., native, Tebon played basketball at three different colleges before running athletic shoe stores and then moving to Boca Raton, where he was on a national championship city lifeguard team. In 1986, he founded Exclusive Sports Marketing. It organizes and hosts events such as triathlons, beach volleyball tours and the Publix Family Fitness Weekend, promising high-end recreation and relatively lavish award parties. His business lives on sponsorships, participant entry fees and support from local sports commissions and hotels anxious to fill slack times with paying, athlete-customers. Annual revenue runs from $1.5 million to $2 million. It's a competitive field. In 1986, Tebon counted 16 triathlons in Florida. Now, there are a dozen just in April, he says. Tebon's goal for his A1A Marathon is 3,500 runners. "Every three or four years I do something to invest in this company and take a risk," he says of his outlay on the marathon. The consultants he hired to advise him tell him, "No matter what happens, in year one, you're going to bleed."

>> Sarasota Marathon: Lisette Riveron, 43, ran her first marathon a few years ago in Italy and thought, "why don't we have something like this in beautiful Sarasota?" Her non-profit plans a March 5 race. A Cuba native raised in West Palm Beach, Riveron hopes for 1,500 to 2,000 runners at her inaugural marathon.

>> The Five Points of Life Marathon, Gainesville: Race director Cate Boyett, marketing and development manager for LifeSouth Community Blood Centers, the organization staging the Feb. 19 race in Gainesville, says the aim of the race is to raise awareness for donations of blood, marrow, tissue, organs, umbilical cord blood and apheresis, donating platelets separated from blood. The idea came from marathon runners on the organization's staff. Boyett hopes for 1,000 runners at the inaugural race. "Our goal is not to lose any money," Boyett says. "We would like to see it be self-supporting through sponsorships."

Tags: Dining & Travel, Trendsetters, Around Florida

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