Bud Nocera is back.
In Lee County, that is.
Nocera, who for years was Visit Florida's highly visible president and CEO until he left in 2009, is back to the place where he started his career in tourism. He was recently named president of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
Nocera started the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau as its first executive director in 1983, so he knows the area well. “I wanted to come back to the area,” he says. “It felt like a really good fit for me.”
Nocera, 62, joined the state's tourism arm, Visit Florida, in 1997 and led the organization starting in 2003. An avid pilot, Nocera left in 2009, taking two years off to get his airframe and power plant license to repair airplanes. “I can fix your 747,” he laughs.
A self-style “lifelong learner” who learned to fly at Page Field in Fort Myers, Nocera says obtaining the A&P license was one of the toughest challenges he's undertaken. Only five of the 25 classmates with whom he started obtained their license. “It was much harder than college ever was,” he says.
But Nocera missed the tourism business, and he recently jumped at the chance to lead the Fort Myers Beach chamber. Fortunately for the organization, Nocera brings his network of contacts and experience in the tourism industry to the business group that now counts about 500 members.
Nocera says he plans to make a big push with online marketing, helping small businesses by steering visitors to their products using the chamber's website, Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
With his experience marketing Florida on a global scale, Nocera says he hopes to do the same for Fort Myers Beach. Whether it's visitors to Florida or to the small beach town, Nocera says you have to tailor information to customers. “You can't just throw information at them,” he says.
Nocera hired Miles Media in Sarasota to design a site that will steer customers to what they need in just a few steps. For example, if a visitor is looking to organize a wedding on the beach, a list of hotels, caterers and photographers that focus on this market will appear after just a few clicks on the website.
Nocera hired code writers from Fort Myers to write the software for the new website. If it's successful, it could be sold to other organizations, he says. The launch is scheduled for the middle of September.
The key, Nocera says, is to reinforce Fort Myers Beach's well-known brand as an affordable beach destination. “It's really our brand,” Nocera says. “Our job is to sell what we have.”
So don't expect any radical new departure from the usual target markets, such as the Midwest and Northeast during the winter months and in-state and local travelers in the slower summer months.
Nocera says the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau is among the best in the state. “What we have the opportunity to do is to piggyback on their programs,” he says.
The mood among business owners in Fort Myers Beach is more positive than it has been in years, Nocera says. “They believe the economic outlook has improved,” he says, especially due to the fact that visitation grew this winter.
“What we saw this past winter was pent-up demand,” Nocera says. Americans put off vacations during the recession and they're now traveling again.