St. Augustine Commissioners Get Tourism Briefing

St. Augustine City Commissioners know tourism is a big contributor to the city’s economic health.  Just how big was made clear when commissioners got an update on visitor activity from Susan Phillips, president and CEO of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau.

“As far as the importance of tourism, travel in the United States represents $3.1 billion a day, $128.6 million an hour and $2.1 million a minute,” Phillips said. “Those are pretty impressive numbers.”

According to a report cited by Phillips, tourism in St. Johns County had a total economic impact of $3.8 billion from July 2021 through June 2022. Annual visitor spending during the same period was $2.5 billion, supporting more than 32,000 jobs with a total payroll of more than $854 million.

Phillips highlighted how tourism development is structured in St. Johns County through three organizations, the VCB, the St. Johns Cultural Council and the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce.

“Each of us have a separate area of focus, even though our agencies collaborate and support each other,” she said.

Phillips said the VCB focuses on destination marketing efforts outside of the county.

“You won’t see our advertisements here in the county,” she said. “Our goal is to focus on higher spend, longer stay visitors.”

According to Phillips, the VCB undersees an advertising agency, a social media agency, a Hispanic public relations agency, a web development agency and a distribution call center agency “all designed to promote our destination all over the world.”

Phillips said the Cultural Council has a different role in promoting arts, culture and heritage-related product development and events which helps the VCB promote the county as a tourist destination, and the Chamber works to promote the Ponte Vedra visitors center and works with the VCB to promote the Ponte Vedra area.

The tourism development work done by the three agencies is funded by the collection of bed taxes at area hotels, short-term rental properties and other lodging properties. Phillips said just over $23 million in tourist development tax revenue was collected in fiscal 2023.

“This year we expect that to be about $24.5 million,” she said.

Mayor Nancy Sikes-Kline said she hears from residents questioning the need to promote tourism with so many visitors coming to St. Augustine every year.

“We hear from our residents all the time and businesses that we’re jammed up here,” she said.

Phillips said there is a simple answer to that perspective, given tourism’s importance to the city and county.

“We have to keep advertising to remain competitive and relevant,” she said. “If we stop advertising, (visitors) will go to the places that are advertising.”