A long road to a big win

Tourism may not seem like a natural partner of the general aviation community, but it can be. It can even be argued that it should be. And as an naturally argumentative sort of fellow, I’ll be happy to take up that issue and carry it wherever I have to in order to make progress for GA.

Here in central Florida tourism is big business. The weather works in our favor, of course. It’s the same reason so many aviation-oriented folks will travel long distances to accelerate the arrival of spring at Sun ’n Fun, they will travel to watch baseball, or play soccer, or lay by a hotel pool slathering on sunscreen on the exact same day a snowstorm is lambasting their home town with freezing winds and piles of frozen precipitation.

Tourism has its place.

Based on those scenarios it isn’t hard to imagine why organizations have popped up in the Sunshine State to maximize the benefits of tourism, both for the tourist and for the residents of the state. Sports and theme parks have been a strong focus for many years, with spring training baseball being a stellar example of how an attractive activity can bring tourists, and the out-of-town dollars they bring with them to this sandbar that separates the Atlantic from the Gulf of Mexico.

Here in central Florida we have a lot of coastline, but not much salt water. We’ve got lakes aplenty and truly great fishing, but not a surfable wave in sight. In short, we’ve got strengths and weaknesses when it comes to attracting tourists. We’re a destination just begging for a good, solid SWOT analysis to be done (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). But why bother?

As regular readers of this column know, my stated goal is to inspire and encourage others to find the opportunities in their own backyard, pursue them with vigor, and promote general aviation in the process. Why waste our time focusing on weaknesses and threats? We’ve got plenty of naysayers doing that for us on a regular basis. So I’ll once again urge you to look to the positive, and I’ll share this success story with you in the hopes that it provides some inspiration.

If we can chalk up a win here, you can find a way to do the same in your community. You just need to find the opportunity and pursue it.

I’ve maintained for years that aviation should be a more deeply appreciated component of our economic development plans here in central Florida. With all the natural advantages we have in place, the only thing holding us back from promoting aviation more effectively was the lack of a creative mindset and a dedication to the cause. Thankfully, we seem to be finding our way on both fronts, and I’m overjoyed at the potential it presents – both for those of us who live here, and for those who may come to visit, either now or in the future.

Take heart! It took only one voice to persist for long enough to finally make the right phone calls, send a well-received handful of emails, and gather the support of one dedicated airport manager, which resulted in the Polk Aviation Alliance. This informal association of the county’s four airport managers, as well as the management of Sun ‘n Fun and Fantasy of Flight (two major aviation-oriented tourist draws in the area) resulted in a more obvious cluster of worthwhile business entities than had previously been recognized by the conventional economic development folks.

With the establishment of a more visible group of participants, a wider circle of influence was realized. That led to the recognition at higher levels of county government that aviation has economic clout. That in turn led to an invitation to pitch the Tourism Development Council on the idea of including aviation along with sports and the arts as an industry that affects tourism — and is worthy of consideration when it comes to marketing, advertising, and supporting the industry as it exists within the borders of the county.

This may sound pedestrian and unimportant, but it is just the opposite, I assure you. It means that the county officially recognizes — and is preparing itself — to support aviation events, promote aviation businesses, and attract air carriers to an area that has a proven affinity for aviation on the private side of the equation.

This is a big win, although it has gotten no news coverage in the traditional outlets, and I honestly don’t expect any in the near future. The aviation industry is noticing, however. And that matters a great deal.

Because you’ve really got something when the towns and cities that own airports call out to the county government saying, “We deserve your attention and your respect” and the private entities involved in the general aviation business say, “We’ve got something of real value to offer” and individuals stand up and say, “I’m ready to be a part of this. I’m willing to help grow aviation in all its forms right here in our own back yard.” Yep, that’s really something.

This is Polk County, Florida — and we really do have something special cooking. Keep an eye peeled. We’re going to surprise you, I have no doubt.

But that doesn’t mean you have to placidly sit there and watch from afar. If we can do it, you can do it. Your neighborhood has attributes that make it a desirable destination, too. Find them, exploit them to the best of your ability, and expand their potential through new connections and partnerships.

It will take time, but so what? The sooner you start, the sooner you will realize your goals.

General aviation has far more worth than the average person on the street knows. So let’s get together and show them how our industry can make their lives better, one business, one airport, one city, one county at a time. We can do this!


Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.



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