Lee Island Coast VCB aims to serve agents

By Bob Mervine

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Exceeding expectations for services rendered is the goal for the Lee Island Coast Visitor and Convention Bureau, according to its new executive director, D.T. Minich.

The bureau's travel agent help desk and hurricane emergency communications plan are among the bureau's top features, he claimed.

"The help desk is more than an automated, bells-and-whistles answering service," Minich said. "It's personal service -- not a recording."

The help desk's staff, he said, aims to help travel agents close sales. "We use it as a tool in working with the travel trade," Minich said. He cited one call for information about a booking that sent a staffer on location to advise the inquiring agent about specifics.

"In most places, agents just call and leave a message about sending some brochures. We'll ask when they are needed and, if necessary, overnight things to help the agent be successful," he said.

The help desk volume remains constant, Minich said. Those agents familiar with it use it quite frequently, and there are no plans to change it.

Changes are planned, however, in other areas. A new trade show exhibit booth, a newly designed Web site and new collateral brochures are coming.

The new trade show booth will feature depictions of the county's natural environment and cultural heritage.

The Web site, at www.leeislandcoast.com, will be changed by midyear and provide more details on individual hotels.

"Agents will be able to click on the link for an individual property and search for what they need -- even Ipex [360-degree] photos for those Web sites that have them," Minich said.

The new collateral brochure is a 65-page, in-depth guide to the region, he said, arranged "by lifestyle instead of geography. It has the look of an expensive, upscale travel magazine."

The bureau also partners with airlines to schedule agent fam visits. Last year, participants included American Trans Air, Spirit, Continental, US Airways and Delta.

Minich recommended that agents contact the airlines serving Fort Myers as the best approach to scheduling a fam visit.

"We do offer discounts and occasional complimentary room nights during our shoulder season in the summer and fall," he said, suggesting agents also call the bureau's agent help desk for details.

Florida's hurricane season is confronted head-on by the bureau, Minich said, with a comprehensive plan that is updated annually.

It provides a variety of communications (phone advice, Web, trade and consumer ads and publicity campaigns) and visitor resettlement options tailored to fit each situation.

The messages range from the positive: "We're fine, come on down" to the negative: "Don't plan a visit right now."

Adding to these programs, Minich said, and stimulating more communication with the local tourist industry is on his agenda.

"I believe it is important that they understand our plans, and I expect to share information with them regularly," he said.

Agents, meanwhile, should be aware that Fort Myers' Southwest Florida Airport is seeking the necessary permits to build a new passenger terminal by 2005 and "that the work will go on without disrupting the existing facility. Meanwhile, more carriers and service are being sought. The airport posted a 6% traffic increase in 2000.

"Ecotourism is a huge part of who we are," Minich added, noting that a planned blueway -- similar to a land-based greenbelt but created in the water -- will provide a kayak trail from one end of Lee County to the other, with 13 places for visitors to rest.

In hotel news:

  • The 450-room Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa in Bonita Springs will open in September.
  • The 126-room Hilton Garden Inn is set to open in Fort Myers this fall.
  • The 320-room Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa in Fort Myers doubled its meetings space, adding 23,000 square feet last fall. A skyway links the new area with the existing 22,000 square feet.
  • To reach the bureau's travel agent help desk, call (800) 237-6444 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or e-mail [email protected].

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