SPRING HILL — Some 116 million tourists visited Florida in 2017, spreading out to varying destinations over its 58,560 square miles, its length of 447 miles from the Georgia line to the Key West.
It’s because there is so much Florida to see, and so much competition for tourists, that Hernando County sought to distinguish itself—not only in the rest of the state, but also this region of the west coast.
Part of the designated nine-county Nature Coast, which includes Pasco County and extends north along the west coast, sharing the Nature Coast name made it too easy to get lost in the crowd.
The solution was a new name.
With a little research and strategic planning, Hernando rebranded itself, and since 2015, Hernando County has been the Adventure Coast, Brooksville-Weeki Wachee. But those still calling it the Nature Coast are not exactly wrong.
“We’re still part of the Nature Coast,” said Tammy Heon, Hernando County manager of tourism development. “The rebranding has been enormously successful creating an identity for ourselves in the nine-county region,” she said.
And that success is paying off. In the last fiscal year, Hernando took in over $1 million in tourism tax revenue for the first time. The collected revenue in 2014 before the rebranding came to just over $300,000. Tourism was granted another 5 percent of collected taxes since then, but even considering that, there is no question that tourism is up a lot. Heon believes the rebranding has much to do with that.
Tourists don’t make choices based on county lines but they do on cities, Heon said. Tapping into the already well-known Weeki Wachee name was only logical.
“You can be in Alaska and people have heard of Weeki Wachee and the mermaids,” Heon said.
And tourists are starting to catch onto what Brooksville has to offer. Not only is it the county seat, but also the seat of the county’s storied history. Thanks to the recent completion of the Good Neighbor Trail, it also is blowing up as a major destination for bicyclists.
The trail means bike riders can pedal from the Withlacoochee State Forest all the way into downtown Brooksville, Heon said. Her office and the county have exploited that unique attribute, hosting major cycling events like the Bike Florida Spring Tour held over four days at the end of March this year. Some 550 cyclists from around the world visited, camping in Brooksville’s Tom Varn Park.
“I asked them what they loved most and the answer was our beautiful trails,” Heon said, adding the event is estimated to have contributed more than a half-million dollars to the local economy. Three other biking events are planned for this year, Heon said, and once the Coast to Coast Trail is completed in 2020, the attraction to bikers will be even greater, as they will be able to travel here from the east coast of Florida.
The Adventure Coast office also will be working closely with the Hernando County Waterways Department on promoting fishing, diving and the county’s offshore reefs. Her office contributed to efforts to place concrete reef balls on the Benickson Reef, where Waterways workers recently sunk a concrete sailboat known as the Ghost Ship to bolster the reef and make it even more attractive to anglers and divers.
Heon said her office also is preparing to reprint brochures highlighting outdoor and water sports, including the scalloping season, which opens July 1. The Adventure Coast also will be featured in an upcoming episode of the “Let’s Take it Outside” TV show.
“Waterways is a big focus for us,” said Heon, who often jokes that her unofficial title is “Queen of all things fun.”
It’s just the right title, as the www.floridasadventurecoast.com website puts it right on the home page: “Nature’s place to play.”