As some of you know, I’ve decided to fire up my old blog again. I tried writing for a commercial travel site for seven months, only to find that what readers liked, the local tourist bureau did not. Although I enjoyed the experience and met many great Floridians through my work, ultimately, the goals of the tourist agency reigned supreme.
The dialogue that led up to me parting ways with the travel site weighed heavily on Gainesville tourism. Many of you readers expressed an opinion about local tourism, finding it and Gainesville to be mutually exclusive things. Even the tourist bureau itself stopped calling people from out of town “tourists” and replaced that with “visitors.” People visit Gainesville. As a friend of mine said, they come for football, get drunk, and leave with a hangover. Or they come for medical reasons (medical tourism is Gainesville’s great secret tourist market) or to visit students at Family Weekend. What they don’t do is to come for pure tourism, since there is an extremely limited market.
One thing I tried to do with my former column was to highlight the area’s rich natural resources. Over the course of my writing for that site I met cave-diving tourists from Germany and bird-watching tourists from Ohio. Here were two reasons for tourists to visit Gainesville. The more I got out, the more I realized that Paynes Prairie, and La Chua Trail in particular, was an enormous tourism attraction that was almost completely overlooked. Handled correctly, and with an eye towards conservation and preservation, the prairie might be the “draw” that pulls people off I-75 as they hurtle southwards towards Orlando or Miami. La Chua Trail is a cognate to the Anhinga Trail in the Everglades and might be put forth as such, if…
For whatever reason, the tourism promotion in Gainesville focuses at least half on the downtown area, or on urban attractions. Here is where I had to draw the line. I didn’t see how promoting a coffee shop where I’d never bought a cup of joe would help bring people to Gainesville. There’s nothing at the corner of University and Main. A fun weekend can be had by combining a Free Fridays concert with a play at the Hipp and dinner at Emiliano’s and a sandwich at the Lunchbox, but what happens on Monday? Or Tuesday?
Once the major attractions were covered, or were covered by someone else, it seemed foolish to write about them again. While I do revisit certain locations time and time again, I saw no reason to re-up them as if they were fresh ideas. How many editorials about the Butterfly Rainforest can you read?
So, I am back to the swamp, on my own agenda. Coming up soon will be Okeefenokee adventures, a trip to St. Pete, and a tour of local sinkholes. Thanks for reading!