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News Story
Updated: 09/30/2012 08:02:04AM

Lessons to take from tourism survey

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Polk County is doing a pretty good job of providing places that could attract tourists and visitors but there is still room for improvement.

That was the conclusion of a study commissioned by the Central Florida Visitors and Convention Bureau.

The study was an update to a 2003 study by Randall Travel Marketing.

For the most part, we think the study captured what many of us who live here year-round already know — we might not have Disney World but we have a lot of fun and interesting places to attract people here.

Here are some of comments made by the researchers:

- “Lake Wales looks great. While the Grand Hotel is still not restored, the rest of downtown area looks clean and alive with residents and visitors enjoying shops. This has to be one of the friendliest places in Florida. We found ourselves consistently smiling at local residents who engaged us, asked us where we were from and encouraged us to visit area sites.”

- “Bartow is a combination of business and government buildings. This is not a town of significant visitor interest.”

- The study said that when researchers first looked at the City of Winter Haven in 2003 that the city looked tired and littered. “Now, Winter Haven looks fresh, clean and inviting.”

- Cities like Frostproof, Fort Meade, Lake Hamilton, Dundee and Eagle Lake had changed little from the time of the first survey, researchers reported.

- The report said cities like Davenport, Auburndale were bustling and growing.

For some reason researchers choose not to go to Haines City, which was puzzling.

- The report praised the addition of Legoland in Winter Haven and the county’s Outpost 27 visitor’s center near Interstate 4 and U.S. Highway 27 as adding to the positive mix of tourist attractions and amenities in the county.

What can we learn from the survey?

One of the recommendations was for the communities involved to pay attention to the aging of the county’s hotels. Two-thirds of the hotels in Polk were built before 1980 and nearly half were built before 1960. This could have a negative impact on tourism if our county gets the reputation for having poor accommodations.

The study also recommended that Polk have better signage on Interstates 4 and 75 so that tourists could develop a sense of place about Polk County.

More signs and billboard extolling the virtues of the area would be helpful.

The conclusions of the survey seem to make sense. At first blush we wondered why Bartow was brushed aside so easily with the comment that there was basically nothing to see there.

We don’t agree with that and wonder if the city and the area’s business organizations might take note of that and think about promoting some of the fun things to do in the city.

The Polk County History Center, formerly known as the Polk County Historical Museum or The Old Courthouse, is a gem that should be known as a tourist destination in the City of Bartow. Perhaps better marketing by the county and city and museum officials could change that.

We do think the researchers were spot-on when it came to describing The City of Lake Wales as a very friendly city. That description is accurate and well-deserved.

There are many things to attract people to Polk County. With just a little push and effort we can make the visitor experience even better.