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Experience Kissimmee needs changes, study says

Posted on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 3:58 pm

County also investing in MLS

By Ken Jackson
Staff Writer

Yet another independent study of Experience Kissimmee, Osceola County’s marketing arm for tourism development, showed that while the organization is not broken, parts of its operation are “fractured.”

So said Bob Porter of Management Insights Incorporated to the Board of Osceola County Commissioners at its regular meeting Monday.

Despite an increase in tourist tax dollars showing that tourism results this year are up from  2012, Experience Kissimmee, as well as industry partners aren’t satisfied with the results, Porter showed.

“The numbers are up, but so are those of all surrounding areas. Has the rising tide floated everyone’s boat?”, said Porter.

Less than a month after another consultant discussed whether Experience Kissimmee should continue as a public, government-run agency or a private-sector business, Porter’s scope was on what the organization is being asked to do and how it is achieving that work.

At the heart of Monday’s briefing was the county’s strategic plan — Destination Osceola 2022, started last year — and how it’s getting implemented. While its direction is good, Porter said the plan is behind schedule because not enough of the focus is on the implementation, Experience Kissimmee does not have enough direction, and stakeholders feel there is an overemphasis on sports and an under emphasis on international markets.

In all, the strategic plan has 51 items, including 38 that involve differentiating Osceola County as a destination over other areas locally, but Porter said only 14 of those should be handled by Experience Kissimmee.

“This is where we find places things can improve, which is a good thing,” he said, noting that in the three different ways to chart progress, work was moving toward completing the strategic plan.

“If this was a dinner, half of the dinner is ready, but the other half is in the oven, and some of it is still in the recipe book. There’s still plenty of cooking to do before you’re ready to sit down and eat.”

Porter also noted the recent flux of Experience Kissimmee’s leadership situation. Former Director of Sales Tracy Ward has been serving as Experience Kissimmee’s acting executive director since former director Shelley Maccini resigned the post in May. Around that same time, Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr. had asked for the county to look into the marketing arm being run privately. Deputy County Manager Beth Knight said last month a full-time director won’t be named until the county’s studies are fully completed.

“The lack of stable leadership has contributed to this position. The team now is very focused and very dedicated, but you’ve experienced turnover at the top spot. And there’s a low level of trust between Experience Kissimmee, industry partners and your commission,” Porter said. “We look at trust as the ability of any individual who’s part of this plan to say, ‘I’ll put forward what ever effort is necessary to be successful.’ That hinders your optimal performance.”

He provided the bullet-points of a long report that will be made to the county of areas that can be improved. Items on that list include a branding strategy for the U.S. Highway 192 corridor, addressing distressed business properties, designing clearer ways to measure success and an increase in tourism generators such as shopping, attractions and restaurants.

He said the tourism industry can help Experience Kissimmee and the county become a bigger and better driver for tourism.

“Industry partners desperately want to work with Experience Kissimmee and the commissioners,” he said. “Their frustration is they have info and insight passed to Experience Kissimmee that wasn’t used. But collectively, we have groups who know what to do.

“You have a staff that’s motivated, but to be frank, they’re scared,” Porter said, noting recent staff turnovers. “They’re working on these ideas but without a clear brand and strong positioning, it’s not going to work. You’re going to continue to be frustrated with the incremental improvements instead of the breakthroughs we think you’re looking for.”

Hawkins Jr., who began discussion of Experience Kissimmee’s performance when Maccini resigned, asked if Experience Kissimmee is “broken.”

“At the core, no, but there are some edges that are fractured,” Porter answered. “But don’t give up, the talent is there.”

Commission Chairman Frank Attkisson said that since the county put the right people in place to drive Experience Kissimmee’s efforts, he was glad to have such intense scrutiny.

“Help us have a higher standard to be able to implement those to Experience Kissimmee,” he said.

Also at the meeting, the commission announced it is making a monetary pledge to the Orlando City Soccer Club, which was granted a Major League Soccer franchise on Tuesday.

The county will pay the club $1 million in the form of $100,000 payments over 10 years beginning in 2015, and at the end of any year Osceola can opt out if the benefits promised in return by the city of Orlando, Orange County and the soccer club aren’t what was promised.

Orlando will provide help on the eastern extension of Osceola Parkway, which is projected to intersect with State Road 417 in Orange County; those governments to the north are expected to help with the interchange construction. They also are expected to partner in a tourism project hosted in Orlando the first year and in Osceola County after that.

With all of that, coupled with the fact that the soccer club will play in 2014, its final year as a minor-league club in the USL Pro League, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, county leaders called the money spent a good investment.

“What we’re spending is a drop in the bucket,” Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr. said regarding the return. He attended the team’s announcement of moving to MLS Tuesday night in downtown Orlando.

“We’ll be working on a project that I would guarantee we’d get a return tenfold on the commitment we’re making,” County Manager Don Fisher told commissioners at Monday’s meeting.