Tourism summit focuses on hospitality

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    About 120 visitors showed up Aug. 30 in Trenton at the 6th Annual Pure Water Wilderness Tourism Summit.
    "There was more of a positive response," said Donna Creamer, executive director of Pure Water Wilderness, after the event. "There was more cooperation."
Creamer said the event, which focused on hospitality and customer service, had one of the biggest turnouts yet, something she attributed to the day's topic.
    "One negative experience can shut down a business," Creamer said. Sometimes business owners don't realize how much damage a disgruntled customer can cause through word of mouth, she said. "Especially with Internet, nowadays."
    Most of the day's visitors were from the Tri-county area, she said, though some business owners came from as far away as Madison and Jefferson counties.
    Gretchen Avera and Nancy Wideman, both first-time visitors to the tourism summit, said they came to learn more about improving business in Jefferson County, where they are from.
    Wideman, a member of the Jefferson County Tourism Development Council, said she was glad that the tourism summit focused on customer service. It's important to customers, she said, "So they will come back." Too many employers don't train employees about the importance of customer service, she said.
    Avera, who owns a Jefferson County bed and breakfast, said she enjoyed the event as well.
    "I think it was very interesting," she said. "It had a lot to offer."
    In particular, Avera said she agreed with the subject of cooperation between businesses to keep local economies strong.
    "It's called coopertition," explained speaker Mark Jackson during the event. Jackson, a sports marketer and former college economics professor, said even though businesses may be competing for tourist dollars, they should also be cooperating.
    "A lot of you are competing against one another for a limited amount of money spent," he said. Restaurants, hotels and other businesses should refer customers to other local businesses that provide different services to "keep those dollars local."
    Most of those dollars, according to Jackson, come from tourism.
    "Truckloads of money pour into these three counties from people who don't live here," he said.
    He estimated about $30 million came into Levy County last year via tourists. About $150,000 was collected just from the county's 2 percent bed tax.
    "That's how important tourism is to Levy County."
    Another important market in Florida is the sports industry and special events, coming in at No. 2 behind tourism. Both are economically diverse and recession resistant, he said. And both can help compensate for a slow business season.