Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Saturday, January 12, 2013
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Attractions group marks 30th birthday

Thirty years ago, while the country watched "Hill Street Blues" each Thursday night and streamed out of movie theaters humming the theme from "Chariots of Fire," 12 Key West business owners were joining forces to help cultivate the island's burgeoning tourism economy.

Those 12 businesses made up the founding members of the Key West Attractions Association, which marked its 30th anniversary last month.

A dozen representatives of museums, tour companies and watersports operators created the nonprofit association on Dec. 2, 1982.

"It was right when tourism was starting to boom in Key West, and their goal was to pool their resources in order to advertise and promote Key West outside of the Florida Keys," said Monica Munoz, executive director of the Key West Attractions Association.

Munoz works in the marketing department of Historic Tours of America, but receives a monthly stipend from the association for her administrative duties.

Historic Tours of America CEO Chris Belland also was one of the 12 founding members of the association, and he still heartily believes in its mission, Munoz said.

"We pride ourselves on providing reliable and unbiased information to all visitors coming to our island. ... We are all in competition, but by partnering up we can all benefit as a destination as a whole," she said. "We give our visitors all the information they need in one spot. They take that information and decide what interests them. We are not a concierge and do not make money off any recommendations."

She added that the attractions association does not have a paid staff. Other than her monthly administrative stipend, the board of directors and members are all actively involved in the organization.

Founding members, in addition to Belland, also included Melissa Kendrick, executive director of the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum and Paul McGrail, owner of Sebago Watersports.

"In a commitment to excellence in family entertainment, the members of the Key West Attractions must meet and maintain quality standards of cleanliness, safety, truth in advertising, hospitality and proper complaint resolution," said George Fernandez, co-owner of the Key West Butterfly Nature Conservatory and a past president of the association, according to its website.

Terry Strickland, general manager of the Yankee Freedom II ferry to the Dry Tortugas, is the current president.

"Originally, the association only included one museum, one dive operator, one snorkel boat, etc., so the members weren't competitors," Munoz said.

But the association's bylaws have since changed and now allow more than one member in each category. For example, both Sebago and Fury Watersports are members of the association, Munoz said.

The association made headlines last year when CityView Trolleys, a tour competitor of HTA, applied for membership, but was denied.

Munoz said CityView is again eligible for membership, and the group's bylaws have changed so that abstentions in the voting process no longer count against an applicant.

"When they first applied, there were several abstentions, which counted as "no" votes," she said. "But abstentions no longer count as 'no's', so if CityView applies for membership, the vote will be re-taken."

She added that representatives from CityView were planning to attend the association's 30th anniversary party Friday evening.

The group has grown from 12 founders to its current roster of more than 75 members and associate members.

"Full members are defined as those that charge an admission fee," Munoz said. "But associate members are also welcome, including bars, restaurants and hotels."

Members and associates must be located within a 10-mile radius of Key West to be eligible for membership.

As the Southernmost City's tourism industry has grown exponentially, so has the organization. Its role and operations also have matured.

"When it first started, there was no Internet, no website, no online information," Munoz said.

The association pools its members' advertising resources to publish 250,000 brochures every 12 to 18 months. The guides provide up-to-date information about all the members.

The brochure is distributed at tourism conventions and trade shows, but the association's website (www.keywestattractions.org) has become the "one-stop shop" for information about each member and its services.

The association also works closely with Newman PR, the public relations agency that markets the Florida Keys for the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. Attractions members often host visiting journalists to ensure they get the most from their Key West vacations and in turn spread the good word, Munoz said.

The association meets monthly to discuss tourism and marketing strategies, as well as local events. A president and board are elected annually.

The association was to host an anniversary celebration Friday evening to commemorate three decades of a successful tourism industry.

mmiles@keysnews.com

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