Daytona Beach leaves the past behind with new CEO
Steve’s breakdown: We smelled something going on in Daytona Beach last July when we reported Daytona tourism authority looks to regroup. So now the new guy is in place. We hope he knows the best way to start spending that $6 million budget is to hire an agency.
DAYTONA BEACH, FL: Jeff Hentz strolled into the Daytona Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau for the first time on Wednesday and started cracking jokes.
“That’s my chair that arrived,” he said, pointing to a Daytona Beach lifeguard chair in the lobby as he greeted his new staff.
It was a lighthearted start to his new job as president and CEO of the convention and visitors bureau — a job that brings with it countless pressures and expectations to increase the area’s 8 million visitors a year and bring new convention business to the Ocean Center.
Hentz takes the helm of Daytona Beach’s tourism marketing after nine months of that position being empty, marked by controversy surrounding the firing of previous CEO Janet Kersey in July and his own hiring process.
Just a month ago, Volusia County Chair Frank Bruno took on the Halifax Area Advertising Authority that was in the process of hiring Hentz. Bruno called the proposed salary of $140,000 plus $25,000 in performance bonuses along with other benefits extravagant. Hentz’s salary was adjusted to $135,000 annually with the potential to earn $20,000 in performance bonuses.
In an interview on Wednesday, Hentz said the controversy during his hiring worried him, but he was too interested in the position to be dissuaded.
“I’ve not looked at any opportunity with the exception of this one,” he said. “It probably made me think twice, is this the right time . . . but it really fits into the big picture of my strengths.”
That rocky recent past was alluded to as Hentz started his morning at 8:45 — that’s 5:45 on Mariposa, Calif., time, where Hentz was living until this weekend — speaking to a tourism-themed Leadership Daytona class.
“Tourism has been in the news a lot lately, and not necessarily for the right reasons,” said Blaine Lansberry, a local hotelier and member of the Halifax Area Advertising Authority that hired Hentz, speaking to Leadership Daytona.
But the consensus among presenters was that Hentz’s arrival marked the end of the turmoil.
“We have a bright young man coming into the area, great credentials,” said Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Hotel and Lodging Association of Volusia County.
And Hentz didn’t disappoint, speaking with optimism about Daytona Beach.
“I personally think I’ve got the greatest job in the world, when you get to represent a destination like this,” he said, adding that he got goose bumps when he drove into the area this morning.
Hentz spoke about his desire to increase Daytona’s share of the 85 million annual visitors to Florida by boosting both convention business and leisure tourism. In his position, Hentz will supervise the visitors bureau’s $6 million budget, using it to market the area to tourists, and he hopes to leverage that into greater visitation. Currently, Daytona Beach sees about 8 million visitors a year, he said.
“I certainly didn’t come here to get it up to 8.1 or to 8.5,” he said.
He noted the “low-hanging fruit” that Daytona could attract — conventions with an interest in the novelty of the Ocean Center’s beach location, or international travelers who come through Disney.
“They’ve got to come to a beach, and we’re going to make sure it’s our beach,” he said.
Hentz said he’s happy to be back in Central Florida. He has ties to the area and currently commutes from his home in Oviedo. He said he and his wife hope to find a home in Daytona Beach and move here full time after his youngest son graduates from high school in a year.
The brand of Daytona Beach is strong, Hentz said, but he compared it to a quality-brand soda that had been left out on the counter. Hentz said he wants to be a cheerleader for Daytona Beach and bring it into a new era.
“You get energized when you come to a destination like this,” he said.