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Economic impacts of trails and greenways
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Help visitors find your trail!

A simple brochure tells the story of an underlying and important shift in what people want when visiting one of the world's most popular tourist destinations..

From the Fall 2007 issue of American Trails Magazine

By Jim Woods, Florida Office of Trails and Greenways

Map of FloridaTo fully embrace trails as a marketable product, tourism professionals must have the statistics at hand to prove their importance. In support of this, Terry Whaley concluded his editorial "Market the trail!" (Spring 2007 American Trails Magazine) by saying that a phrase often spoken by tourism promoters is "Show us the numbers and then we will promote your trail." Tourism organizations must clearly see that visitors want trails. In Florida, visitors are making their desires known and providing the statistics that justify incorporating trails in the state's tourism marketing strategy.

"Visitors increasingly seek active vacations and new experiences that immerse them in the places they visit."
VISIT FLORIDA, the state's official tourism marketing corporation, constantly monitors the pulse of what Sunshine State visitors desire to see and experience. One avenue for monitoring this is by tracking the information items they request when they stop at the state's official roadside welcome centers. Perched along interstates and major highways just inside Florida's border, these welcome centers serve as the first point of information for visitors arriving to the Sunshine State by car. A few years ago, an incredible thing was realized-- well, at least incredible from the perspective of the trails community. VISIT FLORIDA discovered that the number one question asked at the state's welcome centers was "Where can I bicycle in Florida?"

Consider this for just a moment... Tourism is king in the Sunshine State, qualifying as the biggest sector of Florida's economy and ranking the state as one of the top tourist destinations in the world. Nearly 84 million people visited Florida in 2006, based upon preliminary estimates, with an estimated economic impact of $65 billion (VISIT FLORIDA Research). People have been descending upon Florida's sands in droves since the middle of the 20th century, and in even greater earnest since a strapping young mouse named Mickey set up shop in Central Florida in the early 1970's. Theme parks, beaches, and golf have been dominant draws in Florida tourism for years. But now, a new twist: tourists seeking opportunities to explore Florida by bicycle are making themselves heard. Information about where to bicycle is now the number one requested item at visitor welcome centers in one of the biggest tourist economies on the planet.

VISIT FLORIDA responded swiftly to the public's desire for information on bicycling. It led the way in creating the Florida Bicycle Trails brochure. Released in 2005, the publication was developed in coordination with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Office of Greenways & Trails, the Florida Bicycle Association, the Rails to Trails Conservancy, the Florida Department of Transportation, the Florida Park Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Florida Division of Forestry. The brochure highlights 29 of Florida's paved and off-road bicycling trails and has been incredibly popular. Having already gone through a second printing, inventories of the publication are exhausted quickly. Most telling of all, though, is the fact that an average of 70,000 electronic copies of the guide are downloaded from the Office of Greenways & Trails website each month.

Following from the immense success of this publication, VISIT FLORIDA has continued to partner with the Office of Greenways & Trails and other organizations to produce the Florida Hiking Trails brochure and the recently completed Florida Paddling Trails brochure, all of which are available at www.dep.state.fl.us/gwt.

Visitors increasingly seek active vacations and new experiences that immerse them in the places they visit. Traditional tourist destinations such as theme parks and resorts will doubtless remain important. But incredible potential exists to build upon the rapidly growing demand for opportunities to explore new places from a trail. A simple brochure tells the story of an underlying and important shift in what people want when visiting one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. On a broader scale, the Florida experience may suggest the growing importance of trails in tourism regardless of place. This can only be good news for those of us working to create and build American trails.

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