Thursday, March 22, 2012

Everglades National Park seeks more visitors

Everglades National Park is poised to become more of a tourism focus as a first-time national marketing effort to draw visitors to the United States — with an emphasis on national parks — gets under way.At a group discussion Monday that included representatives from Miami-Dade County and a United Nations agency, experts tossed around ideas about how to bring more attention to the park both internationally and locally.Irina Bokova, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, came to South Florida to visit the 1.5 million-acre park during a 10-day tour of the United States.

Everglades National Park is one of just 21 sites in the United States on UNESCO’s World Heritage list — and the nation’s only property included on the “sites in danger” list.Calling it “one of our jewels on the World Heritage list,” Bokova said the park has the potential to bring more revenue and jobs through tourism — as long as there is an emphasis on sustainable growth to protect the fragile wetlands. About a million people visit Everglades National Park each year; 30 percent of those are from outside the United States, said park Superintendent Dan Kimball.

Many of those international visitors come to the park because it is a World Heritage site, Kimball said. But he wondered how to improve that brand’s recognition within the United States and South Florida. “We do not have an appropriation for marketing,” he said. “Our idea of marketing is putting a brown sign on the highway.”William D. Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, acknowledged that not even locals familiar with the park know of its World Heritage designation.

He suggested including the World Heritage brand on all of the park’s material, including letterhead and business cards.He also pointed out the interest — and money — growing to highlight natural resources such as Everglades National Park. In mid-January, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that took several steps to increase tourism to the United States, including promoting national parks.

A public-private marketing partnership called Brand USA created two years ago to promote the entire country as a destination is preparing to roll out its first marketing and advertising campaign later this year. The group expects to invest as much as $200 million in marketing every year.For now, Kimball thought of at least one thing he can do easily.“Why am I not putting in my email block that I’m superintendent of a World Heritage site?” he said. “I’ll do that this afternoon.”

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